The visual parallels between the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima and the tsunami that hit Japan’s northeast coast a year ago are eerie. In Hiroshima we saw once more the famous photographs of Hiroshima before and after the bomb. In Kamaichi and Sendai the signs of breathtaking devastation are everywhere. While the photographs are stunning, they did not prepare me for the experience of driving through the affected areas. I recall a similar feeling while touring New Orleans’ Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina.
We pass acre upon acre of house foundations. Once in a while a building, badly damaged, stands. The work of clearing debris continues methodically. Enormous piles of collected crushed debris dot the area. The physical healing has only begun. It is going to take years.The emotional wounds are less obvious, but just as real. They, too, are going to take years and years to heal. We attended three memorial services commemorating the passing of a year. Two services were held at the Dharma centers (what we would call a church) of the Rissho Kosei-kai in Kamaichi and Sendai. These ceremonies included a solemn procession in which people who had lost loved ones brought plates of a favorite item of the person who died. There were favorite foods like fruit or sake. One of them included even included two bags of Starbucks coffee!
We heard poignant stories of survival and search for a missing person. Many people, of course, simply disappeared: they washed out to sea as the waters receded.
The third memorial service was organized by the youth of the Sendai Dharma Center and was held outdoors. It many ways it was more emotional, as the ceremony was held in the middle of a huge area that had been leveled.
The special fund we created for tsunami relief has had impact far beyond the actual monetary value. In these villages RKK used donated money to buy vehicles to assist in the rescue and relocation efforts. Just as important, our donations were tangible evidence that they were not alone, that friends in a far off country cared. The gratitude expressed was overwhelming. I wish you could see their faces. I felt a deep pride and gratitude to all UUs were were so generous.
We are part of the healing. I believe our reaching out is more healing in the long term than the important financial help we gave.
We UUs and Buddhists share the conviction that we are all connected to one another. That sounds so abstract. In northeast Japan, our connections are very real. They are person to person and faith to faith.