Archive for March, 2012

Date: March 10th, 2012
Cate: Photo of The Day


Kesennuma is a harbor city, and any Japanese who hears the name of the city would think of great catch of bonitos and varieties of fish from there. When the bonito season came last year, the media covered about the amazing recovery despite of the harsh situation. But interestingly, I only remember the liveliness and the normalness the media has covered about the fish market. The surroundings that I have seen with my own eyes described quite different stories. The building which houses the market shows its bare structure, the sea level looks high because of the entire ground sinking for 80 cm, and the road in front of the market still looking temporary.

And as you drive along this road, you see that the large fish boat which was carried away with is now left as the water left it: When we visited Kesennuma last year, although the road divided the coastline and the boat, I casually presumed that the boat will be moved to demolish somehow. However, as electric wires and street lights are placed alongside the road, which is absolutely necessary to recover the everyday lives, it seemed quite definite that this large fish boat would remain to its state for the unforeseen future.

As we talked with the local fishermen in Karakuwa, whose house is above 7 meters from the sea level however, was flooded, described that the current status of this fish boat is somewhat painful to see for anyone in his profession. Fish boats, small or large, they go through a ceremony to place a soul inside after its first sale. “Any fish boat, has a soul when it goes ashore. Fish boat is a woman, and a close one.” He told us. The current state of this boat, not even in the water, still appears to him as something, or someone, who is more than a large piece of metal.

Previously 80% of the people who live in Kesennuma have been engaged in fishing industry. The city which had approximately 80 thousand population is losing population as the industry is heavily hit, and has been reported to have less than 70 thousand residents as of February 2012.

Date: March 9th, 2012
Cate: Photo of The Day


In some cases, it comes down to a single image to describe the merciless power of nature. The entire wall which easily measures five meters or higher, shows that the water that came right in front has created a huge hole as it tried to find its way out towards the city of Kesennuma. It maybe hard to believe, however, but this is a building used to be Michi No Eki, a Roadside Station providing a resting area and local product shops for tourists. Despite of its damage, this is one of the very few traces of any building indicating this area had been in fact a city. And the link to an image taken before the 3.11 shows how different the building looked before.

Although the surroundings have been cleaned up, there is a buoy way above the ground, stuck on this building.

Because of the snow, the rest of the areas look as if it were a farmland, however, once you start looking carefully, you will see gray geometric patterns, showing that they are once the foundation of homes and the entire flat surface was a large city.

Date: March 6th, 2012
Cate: Photo of The Day
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What you see is what you don’t see

A scene from the harbor of Karakuwa district in Kesennuma. The flocking seagulls and how much the boat is barely floating over the sea informs the people on the coastline – mostly women waiting for their men’s safe arrival – how successful today’s catch was. The photo was taken in November, when salmons come back to the river.

Such ‘codes’ – these small elements of nature and the boat condition – are sufficient indication of the today’s catch, but only to the ones who know them. I myself, although have been standing there along with the fishermen’s wives for over half an hour, did not notice anything until one of them explained to me about the successful catch of the day.

Karakuwa district, now a part of Kesennuma city, is originally a small village with its unique history. Karakuwa, with its unique geographical characteristics of having inner bay area but with a good access to the pacific ocean, and have quite a steep mountain shortly after the coast line, never developed a typical agriculture-based economy like in most parts of Japan. People in Karakuwa either worked in sea, or in the mountains, which most of the time, separated not only their livelihoods but their culture.

But one man, Mr. Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, who runs an oyster farm, have found something astounding approximately 20 years ago. He has realized that this steep mountain is the source of rich minerals that pour directly into the inner sea that make his oysters rich and tasty. Since then, he has been into the forestry and has been working on the healthy eco system.

But just like in the other parts of Kesennuma, Karakuwa was not able to avoid the tsunami which struck the area so heavily. After a casual conversation with the fishermen and their wives, I soon found out that many of them do have work but no home; they are either in shelters, or coming to work from their relatives homes. And it was quite striking as they described that they consider themselves being lucky for having something to do during the day, rather than gambling in Pachinko areas that are today have become so successful with the people who have lost their jobs and have some charitable money from the government.

At this point of time, it struck me that despite of the time I was spending at this harbor, I wasn’t looking at any code or sign at all, apart from the obvious: which was the ground level which sank 80cm, which made it impossible for trucks to approach the coastline without sinking. The fishing boat, which was quite basic and did not even have the proper motor to bring the fish out of the boat, was in fact, one of the very few old boats that survived the tsunami because it was placed inside the garage. And unlike many harbors where you would see colorful flags swinging in the air to indicate which fishing team the boat belongs to, we only see a twig and a small flag in the air.

After the fishermen released their catch into the trucks, they headed back to the shore now to catch sardines: Sardines, they are used as baits for bonitos, and provided to the boats that come from all over Japan. On that day the particular boat I have seen was from Saga, Kyushu. To an ignorant’s eye, the very fact that these people are working so hard to sustain other fishermen’s catch was quite strange. However, perhaps this is how the fishing business goes. Although the result of these hard work may not result in a great income, having that chain of business running maybe vital for the fishing industry to sustain.

And to end this post, some facts I have learned from the fishermen:
- The average age of the fishermen in this area is over 60 years old.
- Even for the fairly successful fishermen, the annual income could be around 2.5 million yen; which is below the average income of the Japanese household.
These two simple facts already suggest that simply bringing back the boats and the distribution won’t be a solution. Many of the coastlines affected by Tsunami would require fundamentally different approaches for the better community and its industry.