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September 18, 2011 / Mika Riedel

Visiting the Scene of “Reason to Live”

Sunday July 17th, 2011

(by Tachibana and Yokoyama from the Tokyo office)

Our two Tokyo office staff members went to see Kadonowaki Elementary School, one of the locations in “Reason to Live.” The following is an introduction to the area with photographs and accompanying text from the original story.

(These photographs were taken on May 2nd, 2011.)

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When the earthquake happened, I was in the Ishinomaki Cultural Center about 5 minutes’ walk from home. I was making cloisonné (decorated metalwork) there. I was making badges to use in the art classroom. That day, I had class in Watanoha, and from four o’clock on there was class so I had made cloisonné all morning, and I planned to do it until three.

Then, 2:50pm. Earthquake.

It was shaking so much. The thousand degree kiln I was using for the cloisonné fell halfway over, and as soon as I thought “That could start a fire! I have to turn off the power!” it came unplugged by itself. Various things fell down by themselves.

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The Ishinomaki Cultural Center is the white building with the sloped roof just left of center. This photograph was taken from our next location, Kadonowaki Elementary, which is roughly 600 meters away.

Then when I looked outside, the Kitakami river was ebbing before my eyes. “This is bad, this is bad,” I thought and my older sister said, “We should run, we should run,” and for the time being we met up at the Shibata house.

My mom was in the house, she was still standing around. I left my mom with my sister, and she walked her to the Kadonowaki Elementary School. Because we had decided that our evacuation site was Kadonowaki Elementary School.

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(From Google Maps)

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The three story school building was covered in ash and soot from the fire, and wrecked cars were piled up in the school yard.

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The front gate used to be about where the center of the photograph is. Now, no trace of the gate or the wall could be found.

I got in the car and drove around warning people in the area. Then, an oncoming car flashed me. The tsunami was surging forward behind the car.

At that moment I was driving towards the river. I quickly made a U-turn, and yelling “Ruuuuun!!” I got away. I hurried to take shelter in Kadonowaki Elementary School. The tsunami was coming right behind me.

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After Mr. Shibata encouraged people in the area to evacuate, he left behind the firetruck he was riding in and entered Kadonowaki Elementary. This photograph shows the firetruck as we found it, roughly 100 meters from where he left it.

Nearly one hundred cars were caught between the rubble and the school building. There were explosions everywhere from gasoline leaking from smashed cars catching fire.

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Just like the article said, more than 100 cars were lying abandoned in the school yard. The fire had peeled away the paint and they were covered in brown rust, having been submerged in seawater from the tsunami.

The school caught fire too. But nobody could get out of the entryway. The hill behind the Kadonowaki School turns into a cliff, and there is one meter of space between the second floor of the building and the cliff. Young people were jumping across to the top of the cliff.

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This was that place.

A one meter gap may not seem like much, but if you jumped wrong it was a four meter fall.

But this wasn’t possible for senior citizens with weaker bodies. I brought boards from inside the school to make bridges across. And I pulled those people out from the cliff.

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There was still a board lying there. It looked like one of the small podiums teachers use to stand on in front of the classroom. The board was just long enough to bridge the distance to the retaining wall in the right side of the photograph.

At the top of the stairs, the road continued to a hill. I asked other people who were at the top to continue to carry them and I returned to the bottom to carry more people. I repeated this many times.

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Mr. Shibata repeatedly traveled up and down this stairway on the hill behind the school.

I called out to the evacuated people nearby for assistance. With everyone’s help we descended on a rope but because the entry hall was collapsing, there wasn’t any where to enter from there. We dropped down from the cliff, crossed over the rubble, and saved the person from the second floor. There were about 10 people left stranded like this.

Eventually from what we could see, everyone was saved. We even carried, with two people, a heavy old woman. Unknown to me, blood was dripping from my hand. It seemed like I was hurt somewhere, yet I didn’t feel any pain. But there was no mistaking that this was my blood.

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Somewhere they found a length of black and yellow nylon rope often used at construction sites, tied it to a nearby tree, and used it as a handhold to climb the hill. Mr. Shibata also went down to help several older people, pushing them up the steep slope. That rope was still sitting where they had left it.

…After that, as described in the article, Mr. Shibata assisted the firefighters with their efforts in various locations. The following day he managed to reunite with his family and ended up living in the evacuation shelter at Ishinomaki High School.

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The day after we shot these photographs the Self Defense Forces began removing debris from Kadonowaki Elementary school. Since then, the damaged cars and rubble have all been completely cleared away. Cleaning up the surroundings is a serious issue, especially if we are to accomplish recovery as fast as possible. However, we can’t lose sight of what happened on that day in the process.

I think we have an important mission, which is to record what happened like this and continue to spread the word.

Written by Kodomo Hinanjo Club on 7/17/2011.

Translated by Paul Haugerud, Takako Kawamukai and Daniel Sunstrum.

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