DISCLAIMER FROM THE TRANSLATOR: While I speak both English and Japanese fluently, I know nothing about medicine. These are rough translations made through tears (i.e., sometimes while bawling). Please take all medical details in particular with a grain of salt. These translations have not been proofread and will be revised on a later date.

Please note that I am NOT in contact with the original author, who has given general permission for translation in one of her entries.

I would appreciate it if everyone can refrain from posting these entries elsewhere and to share this address <http://jkts-english.blogspot.com> instead, as I will be making revisions to each entry directly (addresses for individual entries may change if I revise their titles).



Start reading here: 1) To the affected areas.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

3) Red flags

My first impression upon setting foot in Rikuzentakata is a muddy ground and mountains made of rubble.

This area was wiped out by the tsunami. There really was nothing left, and even the buildings that were still standing were transformed into ruins.

A five-story apartment building had mud and parts of a boat stuck through its top floor, and I really couldn't believe my eyes.

What is that smell? A sharp, burnt odor stung my nose.

It was also extremely quiet. All you can hear is the echo of news companies and the self defense forces in their helicopters circling in the sky.

Snow had collected on top of the rubble, and it was quietly snowing the entire time but my fear was much stronger than any sense of it being cold. I think my legs were shaking from fear rather than from the cold.

As I spent one minute in a silent vigil, all I could think was that we should have come sooner.

Before going to the evacuation site or hospital, we are given a sweeping tour of the city.

This was the shopping district, this was the post office, this place served great ramen noodles, this was the public hall, this was the preschool…

All nothing but rubble now.

They tell us that a pitch-black tsunami about fifteen meters high went back and forth and swallowed everything whole. There were many people who were washed away while preparing to run or even while running away after the call for evacuation was made. If there were someone to blame, they would have someplace to direct all their harsh feelings, but there's no place to direct their anger because it's a natural disaster, they say.

We have religious ceremonies several times a year to pay respect to the ocean, and we've always lived with nothing but gratitude for the ocean, and still… Our guide was shedding tears as we walked.

I was already on the verge of crying myself, but I promised not to cry no matter what, so I turned my eyes away from reality and watched the clouded sky instead.

I followed our guide with clenched fists and shrugged shoulders.

As the wind blows, a sepia-colored photograph and a new year's greeting card with a picture of someone's baby come flying to my feet.

And at every step or two, there is a red flag fluttering in the wind. A whole slew of flags, too many to even begin to count.

"These red flags are standing to mark places where bodies have been found."

Honestly, this was rough.

An old lady is standing in front of one of the flags. She might be about the same age as my own grandmother.

"Dear nurse from Tokyo, there was a house here that my husband worked so hard to build after the war. He never got sick once but now he's dead."

I have the emotions of a human being. It was impossible not to cry.

The lead nurse came flying and pulled me behind a car by my ear. I was scolded severely. But no matter how much trouble I get in, I thought, I'm going to stay true to my own emotions here from now on.

The TV can only show footage that is within their codes of practice, and yet we are seeing all those images.

I saw with my own eyes the real situation there that is not and cannot be shown on television, and it was truly hell.

As we walked with our guide, the self defense forces would be moving rubble and lumber, and there would always be a dead body covered in mud.

I will never forget this for the rest of my life, and I think it is important that I do not forget this.

This rubble and lumber was until just a few days ago the house or tool or treasure that was a part of someone's life.

And beneath them, bodies that are found one after another.

Each time, the self defense forces would put their hands together in prayer. And as we happened to be passing by, we put our hands together, too.

I spent the first day bustling about in the evacuation site, measuring the blood pressure of the elderly and offering health consultations. I was working so feverishly that I probably wasn't smiling at all. My impression was that there were a lot of old people there.

Electricity was still out, so I really lost myself in my work, trying to take blood pressure measurements for as many people as possible before darkness fell.

An old lady who returned my grip as I took her pulse, saying "You're about my grandchild's age. What a warm hand," and kept her eyes closed for a while.

An old man who put his hands together and thanked me many, many times.

An old man who gave me his best smile and tried to sit up, even though he is bed-ridden.

Children eating small rice balls, relishing every bite.

A sleeping baby, wrapped up in a blanket.

During the health consultations, there were many complaints about being unable to sleep. "I can't sleep in a gymnasium," "I haven't been able to get in touch with my relatives and I can't sleep." Many people had high blood pressure.

By the time it became completely dark, I couldn't even raise my arm any more.

There are just a dozen or so evacuation sites, and yet there were so many sites and first-aid stations that we hadn't reached.

I later learned that I had measured the blood pressure of several hundred people on just the first day alone.

But even that wasn't enough at all, and there were many, many more elderly people whose blood pressure measurement I wasn't able to take.

It was like I'd went to the restroom in the morning and then it was already the middle of the night.

We held a meeting to evaluate the first day and to discuss our schedule from the next day on, and the day had passed suddenly, like a whirlwind, after the fatigue from travel, the shock of seeing the reality here, and making rounds in the evacuation sites.

The evacuation sites were overcrowded, and obviously there was no room for us to sleep. The first night, we were packed like sardines regardless of gender in a simple prefabricated hut set up next to the mortuary.

I was tired but there was no way I could sleep. I listened to music on the iPod that I'd brought with me, looked at pictures I'd taken with friends, typed these words you are reading on my cell phone that has no reception and reread messages from friends. I'd held my tears in all day, so I wrapped myself in a bath towel and cried until morning came.

Next entry: 4) Children and the elderly

Translated March 27, minor edits April 19.
Original entry in Japanese: 3、赤い旗


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  2. Anita: Not sure whether you’ll see this, but my e-mail address is on my profile.  There is however a point that I want to make regarding what you wrote, which I will refrain from making unless you decide to repost your comment here.