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A Town in Japan

March 11, 2011

Atlantic Magazine’s In Focus page showed these horrific Reuters / Kyodo photos of the tsunami coming ashore in Natori City, southeast of Sendai.

The wall of water has ripped through the trees and is hitting the first rows of houses.

That tan house is visible in Google Street View.

This heartbreaking NHK helicopter footage shows the tsumami waters encroaching fields and swallowing towns.  The first zoomed shots at the 1 minute mark (15:51 local) are on the north side of the Natori river in the town of Yashiki.  The houses and barns and debris get pushed into Ipponmatsu and then towards Ichibee where the waters push up against a levee and spare Sendai-Tobu bridge at the 2 minute mark.

The helicopter pans over to the south side of the Natori river where houses on fire cross fields and canals and approach Yuriage and Kozukahara, engulfing roads and cutting off drivers.

Within 7 minutes, the water had reached the Quonset hut (outlined in red above).  Visible in Google Street view, it is the Machida Corporation. Across the street is the Yuriage Elementary school (in yellow above). Like most Japanese schools, it is two stories — I hope that was enough.

I believe these Flickr photos by “hey mr. eric” are of Yuriage, or an elementary school near by. (This is may have been taken by a teacher in the JET program which puts western English teachers in Japanese public schools.)

20 years ago I lived in Japan, working on the JET program in an agricultural neighborhood very similar to Natori and Yuriage. I rode my bike by houses just like that, past fields just like that.  I assure you there are beer machines just down the road, just past the dry cleaning shop, with a grocery store around the corner.

On the way to my high school I would walk by the elementary school.  I don’t know if you have ever had 500 children running towards you yelling “THIS IS A PEN”, but I have.  Cute, rather surreal, but mildly disruptive for all involved. I had to change my route to work after a while.

In the grocery store, the locals would watch a tall foreigner shop with fascinated curiosity, but immediately jumped to help him as he puzzled over the mysteries of Japanese packaging. They would proudly point out how the bag of potatoes contained a picture of the farmer who grew them.

I once had five people help me buy bleach.  I had no idea what the word for bleach was, but as I struggled to explain in Japanese that I needed a fluid that made white things more white, I could see the light bulb go off in one guy’s head. He dragged me over to the proper section, pantomiming getting his white shirt dirty, pouring the bleach and shielding his eyes from the brilliance.

In the dry cleaning shop, I would have hysterical half hour conversations with the owner, neither of us speaking each others language to any meaningful degree, but with her English dictionary and my Japanese dictionary we couldn’t be stopped. Only after 6 months did I discover that her daughter was in my English class at the local high school — she would hide when I came in to pick up my shirts each week.

Through my kitchen window I would hear my neighbors give their two year old his bath, the father counting to ten, his son repeating after him, both laughing.

15 minutes warning would simply not have been enough time for those people.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2011 6:15 pm

    Added NHK video, pictures and street view links of Yashiki and Yuriage.

  2. March 11, 2011 6:28 pm

    Thank you for the pics and also for the reminiscence of being a westerner in Japan. I love hearing about cultural encounters between Americans and others in their own country. I would love to read more along this line. If more us were able to travel abroad as you did we would all be better for it. So would our nation.

    The sack of potatoes with the farmer’s picture! It speaks volumes. I had my own long sojourn in France 20 years ago and will never forget it.

  3. Steve permalink
    March 11, 2011 7:53 pm

    Plenty has been said about how suspicious Japanese can be of outsiders. This post is a great (and true!) reminder of just how friendly they can be.

  4. Shane Sibraa permalink
    March 13, 2011 8:16 am

    This is absolutely shocking and I can relate to this as I was a JET in Natori City between 95-98 and taught at Yuriage Chu gakku. It is absolutely devastating and my heart goes out to everyone in Natori-shi who I hope are all getting through this unharmed.

  5. Jim Hughes permalink
    March 16, 2011 5:50 pm

    I don’t think the Sendai-Tobu bridge was spared…if you look at the full video the tsunami jumped the levee and headed west about another few hundred metres…I wonder about the truck driver who was walking back and forth on his rig watching the water turn and head across the river….did he survive?

  6. April 3, 2011 9:29 pm

    Here’s a chilling description of the tsunami’s aftermath around Onagawa by a Canadian on the JET program.

    You can see the island he worked on here.


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