Back to Rikuzentakata

* Written by Rob Keyworth

Rikuzentakata in mid-May by Foreign Volunteers Japan

Rikuzentakata in mid-May a photo by Foreign Volunteers Japan on Flickr.

Well, it’s been nearly two months since our last trip north and today Andy and I took advantage of the last day of the JR special pass and headed north to Tohoku. It was a long but ultimately rewarding day – up at 4, home at midnight and in the middle we’d managed to drop off 1.5 tons of food to where it was needed. But as ever that doesn’t begin to explain the journey we had.

We’ve been planning this trip for a few weeks but had a number of difficulties in arranging the fresh food that we wanted. Our previous suppliers were unable to provide the size of order that we needed and they introduced us to a wholesalers who were happy to provide what we needed but we were unable to provide the documentation in time. And in the end we spoke to the Amazing Paul Yoo of ‘The Fruit Tree Project’ ( and he introduced us to a supplier in Kesennuma who was only too happy to provide us with 250,000 yen’s worth of fresh produce. So Andy and I set off this morning to Ichinoseki on the brilliant JR pass (10,00

0 yen day trip, ends today – why?) where we picked up the truck and headed to Kesennuma.

Our supplier was simply superb and had our entire order ready to be picked up when we turned up at around 11am and had most of his staff ready to load up the truck for us. A short time later we had 250,000 yen’s worth of carrots, potatoes, onions, daikon, leeks, oranges and apples loaded on the truck and we were nearly ready to go. There was a slight delay as the owner then raced around the store to get some supplies for the drivers. After looking at us he decided we had way too much healthy food in the truck so he came back with a bag full of chocolate, crisps and a couple of bottles of water and we were on our way – what a star!

On the drive in to Kesennuma I again realized what I’ve missed over the past 15 years. The area was, and in many places, stunning. Beautiful mountains, beautiful country scenes. Idyllic.

We drove the few extra kilometres into Kesennuma and Andy wondered if there was a race track nearby as there was a smell that  was very strong smell in the area. It took us a while to realise that that was actually the smell of the town. The smell of rotting houses, rotting fish, rotting everything.

The last time I was in Kesennuma we skirted around the most devastated areas and this time we had to drive right through it. What was surprising was that although the majority of the ships that had been stranded ashore had been moved, the homes and businesses looked very similar to what we had first season at the end of March. It was as though they’d been forgotten.

The major difference between now and then was the temperature. My first visit to Kesennuma and it was trying to snow. Today it was 30 degrees. Which creates a whole new set of problems.

Our initial plan was to drive from Kesennuma to Rikuzentakata and drop off aid at the temporary housing. However, for whatever reason we were unable to find the temporary houses and ended up in Rikuzentakata.

250,000 yen worth of fruit and vegetables bound for Rikuzentakata.

A bit lost, a bit confused, but also genuinely stunned. On my last visit there was 7-8 km of devastation and I genuinely thought that it would take years to clean up. If you haven’t been there, it’s difficult to explain the current situation but there has been massive progress; There are mountains of wood, steel, rubber. A field with hundreds (thousands?) of cars that have been destroyed but all put together. It’s almost unrecognizable from the fields of devastation from two short months ago. It’s still bad. It’s still very, very bad. But on the surface at least, it is improving. We went looking for shelters/temporary housing where we could deliver our supplies. We dropped off at a couple before heading to the main distribution center who gladly took what we had left. It was unfortunate that we were unable to deliver directly to the temporary housing but due to time constraints this was simply impossible. We did manage to deliver 1.5 tons of food for which the people were very grateful.

As ever, there are many people to thank for making this happen.

IFG for donating some of the money raised from the Futsal tournament. And everyone who attended.

The Black Lion and all of it’s customers who supported the Big Iwate Drive and the Books sales.

Paul Yoo for the introduction and his supplier for making it happen.

Thank you for your support. And please keep helping us and everybody else that is trying to help.

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