Every Saturday morning for the last month, I’ve sat down with a big-ass cappuccino, some crumpets with honey and the latest photo journals from Japan.
During the first couple of weeks, there were many, many pictures of the wall of water that had been flashed all over the foreign media and now that the foreign media has moved on to more dramatic and sensational things, the ‘quiet’ pictures that tell another story are emerging.
Last Saturday I saw this one:
People picking through piles of photos, letters and personal belongings that had been collected from the mountains of rubble and thick mud. There was much debate about what should be saved – clothes? books? teddy bears? They’ve also incorporated a system of flags of various colours to be left on the remains of the houses to indicate whether the owners give permission for the rubble to be removed or whether they wish it to remain untouched.
But in many cases there is no one left to leave the flag as evidenced by the graves marked with nothing but numbers.
In some cases the bodies were too badly decomposed to identify. In other cases, there was no-one left to identify them. Eventually these bodies will be exhumed and cremated, but whether they will ever have a name is another question.
I think the saddest story though is the one of the Ookawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki. After the earthquake, the students were assembled on the school oval for a roll-call as many parents were on their way to collect them.The tsunami raged up the river for 6kms and engulfed the two-story school building and the oval. Of the 108 students and 11 staff, only 24 students and 2 staff survived. All that was left were rows of small school bags and library book bags.
But things are slowly returning to normal. Sendai airport is about to be re-opened and some people have already been moved into temporary housing built up on the hill in Rikuzentakata. The roads have been mostly cleared and you can start to see what used to be.
In the shelters, tents and mini-dividing walls have been erected in some places to give people some privacy.
But it’s a long road to normalcy with damage on this scale. I keep looking at the pictures and wondering, just where do you begin?