"My feelings could not be lifted but sunk down": Dispatches from Japan on the anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake

Ichiroya Kimono Flea Market is a company that sells vintage and new kimonos. I don't own any kimonos, and I don't expect to ever buy one. But I do subscribe to Ichiroya's email newsletter. Why? Because it's hands-down the best corporate communique I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Honest, earnest, and unfiltered, the newsletter is written by Ichiro & Yuka Wada, who own and operate Ichiroya out of Osaka, Japan. The newsletters are not really about the company, per se. Sure, they discuss kimonos sometimes. But they're really more just a weekly personal letter from Japan. They're about life. And they're a pleasure to read, even when the life they're recording is incredibly sad.

I was turned onto the Ichiroya newsletters last month by science writer Shar Levine, who has been reading them for years. After the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan a year ago—and through the fear and madness that's followed the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns—Shar told me that the Ichiroya newsletters have been a powerful testament to how these disasters impacted the lives of everyday Japanese.

There are archives of some of the newsletters online. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find an archive that contained the letters written since March 11, 2011. However, when I got the Ichiroya newsletter today, I knew I needed to share it with you. The entire thing is posted below the cut. It tells a story of terrible sadness, strength, and rebirth that needs to be read.

Hello from Japan! This is

It is March 11th, exactly one year ago, a big earthquake hit Tohoku(northern east area of Japan)and the tsunami caused by the earthquake wiped away ordinary people's lives. In cluding 3155 missing lives, approx 20 thousands people lost their lives, we cannot imagine how many people are there who lost their beloved family members and friends.

Today, there have been prayers and memorial concerts and gatherings all over Japan. I was in a big book store in Osaka, in the afternoon, and there was an announcement for silent prayer at the time when the tsunami hit Tohoku.
All TV channels had special commemorative programs, and showed the devastating video over and over.

Wherever I went, my feelings could not be lifted but sunk down. We offered prayers at our church today, and are having a charity concert next Saturday. There are positive message all over but the tsunami was too overwhelming. If I were one of the people who lost their houses and families in an instant, I probably could not be positive only in one year, I cannot even imagine wheather I could get over it and live on my own.
There are so many charity concerts and events, but on the other hands, there are also many writers, artists, and singers who became not to write, or play music. One popular woman writer was saying in an interview the other day, she feels very responsible to express in appropriate words about this disaster but she is still seeking for the words.
I had hard time finding a topic about newsletter this time, and I cannot help introducing the action by American Marine who saved people of small island called Kesennuma Oshima(it is different from Oshima of Oshima tsumugi).

Kesennuma Oshima is a very small island in Miyagi prefecture with only 3000 people. When the tsunami happened, it hit this small island from all direction over and over. Since the damaged area was so vast in northern area, this small island was left and isolated. Gareki(rubble- which is now the most serious problem after the disaster) blocked rescue mission boats from landing. Some rescue members of Japanese self-defense force were there but they were working to find survivors and could not handel all the work for other residents. They even lacked drinking water, so were drinking from school swimming pool by claryfing water for themselves.
To that isolated island, more than three hundred US Marines landed for help. They built showers, cleaned rubbles-called on each house, and asked what they could do.

One man and his wife who owned a very small restaurant lost everything and things from the restaurants were all under mud with bad odor. One Marine offered to clean the debris- and the man and his wife saw the stacking bowls and dishes collected by this young Marine from the mud and rubble. They thought everything has ended and they lost their restaurant, but they have reopened their restaurant again, using these dishes and bowls- they said, when they saw the dishes dug out by the young Marine, they thought they should start again.

Also the Marine members saw a small boy cleaning up rubbles alone to make a path, they started to do the work with him.

This is what this boy wrote in his essay:

My house has gone.

My father's fish store has gone. I know he kept the store for a long time.

My mother said not to cry, and encouraged me but,

I could not stop crying.

I cried and cried and I used all my tears.

Now my tears stopped.

His parents were worried about this little son, and let him as he wanted to do.

I do not think the Marine members read the essay but saw this boy working alone to make a path-the Marine member who was taking photos said, he just could not help coming to the boy to help him and work with him.
The action on this island by US Marine was one of the action of Operation Tomodachi.

Actually, the damaged area was so big, and what happened to this particular small island was not known so broadly, but this boy and the residents of the island were helped by tomodachi(friends). All the residents saw the Marine members off when they left the island, and then invited them again after 9 months for the token of their thankfulness-they were so happy to see them again and promised, to show the island again with the complete rebirth.

To real fukko(rebirth), it will be a long way. We may never be able to express in appropriate words what this Shinsai(disaster by tsunami and earthquake)gave us, and what words to tell to the victims.
However, the offered hands truly helped so many people who got hurt. This will never be forgotten. Whole Japan will never forget the offered hands from all over the world. We heard we received help from 163 countries and area.

Thank you, domo arigatou gozaimasu

Ichiro & Yuka Wada

Kimono Flea Market "ICHIROYA"


Video taken in Kesennuma Oshima on March 11, 2011.

Image: 気仙沼(波路上)でボランティア Kesennuma, Miyagi pref. Deeply damaged area by the Tsunami of Japan quake, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from jetalone's photostream