March 6th, 2012
Photo of The Day


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.

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  1. March 7th, 2012

  2. Hi Fumiko,
    This is a very good story of the fishermen in Karakuwa. I visited Karakuwa with a team of volunteers from Singapore in AprilI 2011, 3 weeks after March 11 to distribute food to the survivors in the temporary shelters. May I re-post your article in my blog?
    Thank you


  3. FumikoFumiko  
    March 7th, 2012

  4. @ Gregory
    Hello Gregory, by all means. Likewise I’d love to learn your impression from Karakuwa, I take it that would be somewhere in your wonderful blog?



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