Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Resilience in Tohoku

...now is a good time to visit Japan
Tohoku 東北地方 is the northeastern region of Japan's largest island of Honshu. As many of you know, this region was severely devastated by 2 natural events; the March 11, 2011 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami 津波. Today, the area is well on it's way to recovery. The residents of Tohoku, with significant heroic assistance from doctors, nurses, Japan Self-Defense Forces and volunteers across all corners of Japan and concerned international friends, have persisted and made progress in their efforts to help ease resident's personal angst and enable regional reconstruction. The results are evident in the sense of day-to-day "normalcy" residents have managed to restore. ヒロースの支援,  ボランティア,  医師, ナース, じえいたい, 多くの余人. 

Sendai City  仙台市

Images shown here were taken just outside Sendai's JR 仙台市JR駅 train station. The well designed walkway is situated above all traffic to allow easy pedestrian navigation to and away from the station.

Those of you who have a desire to travel to this area of Japan but have some concerns, the photos show that the residents are fully engaged in their daily lives. Tohoku residents are hard at work in their efforts to restore as quickly as possible, a semblance of daily activities they had before the devastating events of March 11, 2011. With the entire nation supporting their efforts, they are moving forward and have made significant progress.

Sendai has many hotels which cater to tourists, transient travelers and businessmen. Many are conveniently located within walking distance of the main train station and those further away are accessible in just a few minutes by taxi.

 Above photo shows Hotel Metropolitan and Hotel Monterey (brown building on the right) both located on the south end of the Sendai Station. The photo on right shows The Westin hotel about a 8 minute walk from the station.

 A tree lined street couple of blocks away from the station. Much of the larger shopping malls and businesses are concentrated near the train station, all within 5 minute walking distance. Given this, I can say the shopping convenience factor is significantly easier and a joy for those of you who choose hotels in the vicinity of Sendai Station.

A day trip to scenic Matsushima 松島
Matsushima is a tourist oriented town of immense natural beauty. Matsushima Bay contains roughly 260 islands most of which have a local  pine tree growing on them. In fact "Matsushima" means "pine tree isle".

 Photo on the left is the entrance to the Matsushima Kaigan train station. Most tourist traveling by train to Matsushima disembark at this station.

Matsushima is accessible by train or bus. There are tours available for those who don't want to sort through transportation options. The route I took was by train. At Sendai station, get on the Sensekisen-Ishinomaki train, blue line, No. 10 platform. This platform is a bit away from the center of 
the station, you'll pass the Sendai Airport line on the right as you head towards the No. 10 platform.  As of this writing, there are many trains which run along the Northeast coastal corridor in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures that do not provide service to towns such as Ishinomaki, Onagawa and many others. Damage to the tracks from the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami still exist so you'll need to speak with Information Kiosk attendants prior to purchasing tickets for any of these towns.

These 3 photos including the "villa" photo,were taken at the bend just before the ferry pier, about a 5 minute walk from the station. You can purchase bay excursion ferry tickets at the station or at the pier (1,400 yen, child prices are less). I highly encourage getting on the ferry to enjoy Matushima Bay. There is an Information booth just outside the station. Some English is spoken here.

This photo shows a 'villa' used by the Lord of Sendai, Date Masamune, several hundred years ago.

 This set of photos are all in the same area just before you reach the ferry pier. The area appears relatively un-scathed from the tsunami even though Matsushima suffered damage from both the tsunami and the earthquake.

Walk bridge you'll enjoy crossing.

...tiny Godaido island just north of the pier

T-shirts relate words of regional perseverance "Ganbaro Tohoku" がんばろう東北 and bonds comaraderie "Kizuna" . This phrase and word has an especially warm meaning and lends a strong sense of unity and perseverance to the people of Japan.

Photo set here were taken at Entsū-in 円通院 temple grounds directly across the street from the ferry pier about 100 meters inland.

 According to a local resident, the tsunami stopped just in front of the temple entrance gate.

Ichinoseki Station in the distant center
en route to Kesennuma 気仙沼

One of the most severely devastated towns along the coast, Kesennuma's situation is not 
where you can call it a tourist destination but you can visit the town and assist the residents there. You can help them economically by riding their buses, taxis, eating meals at their restaurants and purchasing their locally produced goods.To get to Kesennuma, I took the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) to Ichinoseki Station from Sendai. It's a short 40 minute ride and the cost is roughly 3400 Yen. There are local train options available which are less expensive but takes an hour and half travel time.

I opted to get on the bus from Ichinoseki station. I purchased 2 local day pass each valued at 1100 yen for 2000 yen at the bus station building. The fare to Kesennuma is 1050 yen. The bus station building is just outside the train station on the left. To take the train, get on the Ofunato line at Ichinoseki Station.

In Kesennuma, you are dropped off in front of the main train station. This is roughly 5 km away from the port. I caught a cab to get to the port and from what I observed there are town local buses you can ride if you aren't pressed for time.

At Kesennuma fisherman's harbour, evidence of damage from the tsunami is everywhere.

Local fishermen have managed to revive their industry as best they can with what little resources they have access to. It is amazing how quickly residents were able to restore critical economic segments of their town.
All around the building housing the fish market below, were the aftermath of the tsunami devastation. This restored market is a visual reference that the townspeople are engaged in revival of their livelihood and more so, their daily living.

When you walk about town, you can see large swaths of Kesennuma are completely devastated but I also observed residents were in full swing towards restoration. Their body language seem to say that they won't accept what is status quo of their town.

Areas where there are restoration activities, you'll need to be mindful that they are restricted areas so don't venture into these areas and impede the work in progress.

... amid the destruction, a resident's offering of sunflowers ひまわり
(bottom center of photo)
anguish, sorrow, broken heart, hope;
all these emotions emerge with this image
On March 11, 2011 and days following, many many heroes ヒーローズ and heroines rose from the populace to help their neighbors, friends and family. One such individual is 24 year old Miki Endo 远藤未希 who refused to leave her post as a public safety official for the town of Minamisanriku 南三陸. She continued to broadcast evacuation warnings to the townspeople knowing that the advancing tsunami would decimate her town and even the building she was in. In Kesennuma, I could only offer a moment of reflection for the victims of the natural crisis of March 11 and the legions of heroes like Miki Endo and her public safety colleagues, who demonstrated courage and ultimate personal sacrifice.

Yamadera 山寺 - Temple in the Mountain
...view on JR's Senzan line on the way to Yamadera. The cost of a
1 way train ticket from Sendai is 820 yen.
is just under an hour train ride west of Sendai on the outskirts of the City of Yamagata.
Yamadera a very pretty locale and has a very calming effect on your mind and soul. 
It's an easy day trip from Sendai to explore both Yamagata City and Yamadera. I recommend visiting Yamagata City in the morning then stop at Yamadera on the return to Sendai. If you have ample time then stay at Yamagata City for the night.

Snow fell the night before on November 15, 2011

Views of Yamadera temple (photos on right) from the JR station. Before you begin the ascent to Yamadera temple, you can purchase at a restaurant stand just outside of the train station, hot "konyaku" on a stick. Konyaku is a vegetable product with firm jello like texture made from a type of yam. 3 pieces of konyaku braised in a soy based sauce on a stick is a 100 yen. With a bit of hot mustard, it really pleases the palette.

If you'd like you can borrow a walking stick from the restaurant (Konyaku vendor) for your climb. Simply return it when you are back at the station.

Yamadera temple is a short distance from the station, walking away from the station, turn right when you reach the street, walk about 50 meters then a left to cross a small bridge with traditional orange railings (photo below).

 Once across the bridge, turn right, walk about a hundred meters then finally climb stairs into the temple grounds. The temple is always in visual sight so there is no chance of getting lost. Entrance to the temple is 300 Yen.

... a few photos leading into the grounds of Yamadera.

I was fortunate to go to Yamadera at this time of the year. Autumn colors and a fresh powder of snow in the higher elevations really made this locale exceptionally pretty.

The temple is located on the side a small mountain so it does take physical effort to climb all the stairs to the top.
 Once you've reached the uppermost sections of the temple grounds, you are rewarded with serene views of the valleys and nearby mountains.

Almost the entire length of the path up to the temple is deep green moss laden grounds. You'll see many Buddhist statues, primarily Jizo Bosatsu, a beloved Buddhist being in Japan who is recognized as a protectorate of children, expectant mothers, and travelers.

... a pretty valley from atop Yamadera

Return to Sendai Station from Yamadera. One note on Sendai Station, as with all large train stations across Japan, Sendai Station has shopping vendors on all levels of this station, in particular the ground and two subterranean levels. The bottom 2 levels are primarily food vendors of many varieties. It's difficult not to make a purchase even if you aren't hungry. Each of the levels are roughly 150 to 200 meters long, large enough to work up an appetite as you walk the aisles and enjoy a meal in one of the many restaurants. It truly is a fun experience shopping or simply walking the arcade.


... end of my trip in Tohoku
If you have an opportunity, travel to Japan. Your presence will be a tremendous asset to the people of Japan. You'll help the locales you visit economically and the warmth of camaraderie あたたかい絆 you provide will be heartfelt. In return, your visit will likely be full of memorable experiences and you may in fact not want to leave Japan. 
Residents of Tohoku demonstrated tremendous civility, humanity and compassion for each other after the heartbreaking events of March 11, 2011. I hope you also have a personable experience with these good people of Japan.