Saturday, June 18, 2011

Takidashi For Tsunami Victims In Ishinomaki

"We were each given an onigiri (riceball) and a piece of bun; 
that's our meal for the whole day. No water."

3/11 tsunami survivor
from Ishinomaki

"Takidashi" (炊き出し) literally means "food handout" by cooking and providing fresh food. The takidashi was held in a small residential area in Fudocho (不動町) in Ishinomaki, about ten-minute walk from the site the first group did the mud-digging job. Here, the local residents had returned home several days after the catastrophe struck and chose to remain there instead of fleeing to other areas.

One possible reason is because they have grown up and lived there since they were born and there is no other place that feel more homey than their own town. Another reason is that they just have no other places to leave for.


A colourful and beautiful sight in one the the neighbourhood of Fudocho in Ishinomaki; it was like a carnival.

The second group was put in-charge for the takidashi session. Exotic ASEAN food, mainly consisting of Thai cuisine, was prepared and served to the local residents. The food preparation was done through a wonderful team-work of the ASEAN volunteers, Thai students studying in Sendai and cooks from a local Thai restaurant and the Thai Royal Embassy. The Thai students in Sendai had started preparing the ingredients since the previous night and the food was flavoured by the head chef of the Thai Royal Embassy.

Food served includes Thai pan-fried noodles (pad thai), Thai green curry, tom yam-flavoured fried rice, marinated, skewered and grilled meat (satay), and hot Vietnamese coffees.


It certainly caught the local Japanese residents by surprise to see a group of foreigners in bright and colourful attire, filled with broad smiles to appear in their town.


Even though some of the ASEAN volunteers were still wearing their aprons, they still committed to their task of inviting the local folks to the takidashi event.


Miss Tanaka from the Nippon Foundation joined the ASEAN volunteers to invite the local residents to the takidashi as well.


The local folks received us very well and that motivated us even more as the day progressed.


Some of the ASEAN volunteers do not speak any Japanese at all, but the language barrier was not something that stopped them from building new friends.


The pamphlet distributed to the local residents to tell them about the ASEAN event.

There was another group of volunteers who went house-to-house to invite the local residents to the special ASEAN event. The personal invitation worked well, as the first residents came at around half-past-eleven and by one in the afternoon, a long queue had formed. More and more people turned up with a glimpse of hope, sunshine smile on their face and by two, more than 200 families had come for the takidashi. These encouraging sight assured the team that their volunteering effort and presence had certainly paid off.

While feasting on the wonderful food, the local folks were entertained with folk dances and songs in folk costumes by the ASEAN volunteers. They interacted with the local people with warmhearted smiles, helping everyone to feel at home. It was an unforgettable show by the performers who joined the ASEAN Youth Caravan.


ASEAN volunteers distributing goodies to the local folks.


The large number of local citizens that were present were beyond our earlier estimation. They were entertained by some performers from ASEAN countries. 
It was full of festivity.


Ingredients and spices all ready on the table, and it was show time for the chefs.

Amy (left) was among those who helped out at the kitchen and here, she was in the satay team, grilling satay for the local residents.


Chefs from a local Thai restaurant and also the Thai Royal Embassy was flown in to join the food preparation.


Dr. Surin joined the takidashi with the ASEAN volunteers, distributing food to the local folks.


This is the drinks booth, offering the local folks with hot Vietnamese coffee.


This is something very interesting - Thai green curry bun (with herbs and spices for health haha!). 


It was heart-warming to see these smiles coming from the local residents after a heart-wrecking tragedy that hit them three months ago.


Even the kids love the food very much. This little girl was being interviewed by a reporter from NHK while having her plate of pad thai.

The Caravan also gave away caps, t-shirts, flags, and other goodies from ASEAN well-wishers unable to take part in this event, to the residents who joined the takidashi. All the goodies were distributed and snapped up like hot cakes until there were none left. The earthquake and tsunami has changed the city and the nation as a whole. Surely, it's changed it emotionally, but it has also changed it physically.

As the Secretary General of ASEAN, H.E Surin Pitsuwan concludes "The Japanese Government is ensuring necessities for her citizens, we just want to show our friendship with a little of our culture and experience. Participants are willing and ready to do what is needed; they just want to be there in person, share personal experiences and spend quality time with the survivors and friends - as fellow Asians, as fellow humans".


Khemmanit Hamikorn, better known as "Pancake", a popular twenty-three-year-old Thai actress was among the artists who performed at the takidashi.


Aceh survivors performed the Saman dance known as the dance of "a thousand hands" for their Japanese counterparts to show the resilience of human spirit.


All smiles from the Acehnese, who had gone through the same thing more than six years ago and now, they were there to offer support to the people in Ishinomaki.


Legong dance by Riskina Juwita, whom we call her Kiki, from Indonesia.


A marvelous performance of the saung-gauk by Su Zai Zar.


Twenty-one-year-old Indonesian pop and movie star Derby and Padi's singer and bassist got everyone tapping and swaying with their songs.


Annisa performing a duet with Dr. Surin, singing songs like "Bengawan Solo" and "Sukiyaki". 


Adelina from the ASEAN Secretariat, joined in the fun too during the Loi Krathong dance.

Other performances included a string performance on the saung-gauk, the Myanmar harp by Su Zar Zar, a musicology student from Myanmar, some great oldies by Ronnel, a visually-impaired Baba colleague from the Philippines, and also a special music - "Move Towards Hope" (希望に向かって) written and composed by the Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN, Mr Bagas Hapsoro, which was performed in a group comprised mainly of the staff from the ASEAN Secretariat.

The people of Ishinomaki have gone through the worst. They have had earthquake, followed by fire, then radiation and snow. However, their strength and gentle hearts have gave them great courage to stand up against the calamity. Our journey to Ishinomaki have brought deep sadness but at the same time, it was a great honour to bring the message to Japanese all over the country that the ASEAN people care about them in helping them to build an even more resilient and better Japan.


Chatting with one of the local residents, who is a professional ice-hockey player. He kept thanking us for making such a wonderful event to cheer them up 
 and those words really meant a lot to us.


She is from Acheh, a survivor from the Sumatra tsunami while the grandma is also a tsunami survivor. They do not speak the same language; the Acehnese
doesn't speak a single Japanese word while the Japanese do not understand any other language but her mother tongue, yet they communicated though their hearts.

Many friendships were made from this Caravan amidst great warmth. The ASEAN volunteers came from ten different countries. The languages we speak are different, however somehow, we just able to connect with each others even though we just met less than a day ago.

More importantly however, this Caravan has provided a wonderful platform to build a bridge among the youths of ASEAN and our Japanese friends. It was also a real-life experience about engagement, about the role of civil society, about the common travails of survivors, and about volunteerism.


One of the local folks writing up the lyrics of the song "Kitaguni-no haru" (北国の春) on a cardboard before we sang it together.


Amidst the performances on the stage, one okasan appeared with her precious harmonica that holds a sentimental value to her, playing the traditional Japanese song - "Kitaguni-no haru".

Her name was Sato Kazuko, a nurse. She played her harmonica to dedicate it specially for the volunteers who have come all the way to Ishinomaki to help in whatever ways they have done. She was touched by our deeds and she hoped that we would enjoy her songs as well.

A few of us took some time to talk to her friends and we were treated to a heart-warming story from her. She shared with us her first-hand experience when the tsunami struck the town on March 11. She was out on the street when the quake came and when the wave came rushing towards the town, she got the shock of her life. She ran for safety with another few people and fortunately, they managed to hop onto a bus that took them towards a nearby hill. They stayed there, right up on that hill for the next two weeks with other local residents who were fortunate to escape from the horrifying waves.

There is a shrine on top of the hill, and it was there that most of the residents held on. At the same time, it was at in the cemetery on the hill behind the temple that temporary graves were set up to bury more than 200 people who died from the tsunami.


Sato-san continued with her story while taking some bites on the satay. That was their first taste of meat since the disaster.


It was an eye-opener to us when we listened to her heart-wrecking stories. It personally made me feel that I have nothing else to complain in this life, 
compared to these people who have gone through worse times.

"For the first three days, we had nothing to eat but only bananas," Sato-san continued her story, with a simple smile.

Then, on the third day, they got something other than the yellow fruit. Oranges came on the third day, and followed by bread and buns from Yamazakipan. However, drinking water was still very limited and they share one bottle of mineral water with a few people. For the first two weeks, Ishinomaki was totally wrecked. Although they had rice, it was almost impossible to cook them as they were without electricity or gas. Clean water was nowhere to be found too, as most of the water sources have been contaminated by the tsunami waves. Water only came more than three weeks after the disaster struck. Electricity came much later, towards the end of May, more than one-and-a-half month after the wave destroyed their town.

After a few weeks, when things has gotten slightly better, they resumed their daily routine like taking shower. However, they didn't have the luxury to have warm shower. Instead, they walked to the nearby river with their bottles of shampoos and bathed there. However, it was just limited to washing their hair, as the situation was still very bad and they had other more important things to think about.

One thing she stressed out however, is about her precious harmonica. A few days after the tsunami came, while still seeking shelter on the hill behind their neighbourhood, she pledged to the rescue workers to allow her to return to her house because she had something important to retrieve; it was her harmonica.  When she got back to her house, everything was in a big mess. However, she safely found the wooden box where she kept her harmonica and it didn't suffer any damages. Now, that harmonica has turned into one of her most precious belongings, as playing it reminds her of her friends who lost their lives in the tsunami.


After several attempts, we finally got the chance to have a picture taken with Dr. Surin.


Pancake was among our targets too and we also managed a photo with her haha!


One of the obaasan (the middle one in red) insisted that I pose with the "peace" sign haha! So cute of her-lah!


Amy distributed some souvenirs of keychains to the local folks, which caught them by surprised. "What? Is this really for us? Thanks very much!" said on of the obaasan
However, Amy encountered a funny incident when one resident asked for two pairs of keychains when she was handing them out haha!

That obaasan in red, told me that seeing the Indonesians' performances and also hearing to the language had made her miss her daughter very much, who is married to an Indonesian. Another local resident, Kazumi Sato, a 34-year-old mother of three who lives in a heavily damaged house in Ishinomaki, said she appreciated the food served by the ASEAN Caravan, adding her children had only been offered bread and milk at schools until recently. "We are glad as we ate something unique today. The event is like a festival and my kids enjoyed it," she said.

I was told that the local folks we encountered on the day, especially at the takidashi, found the ASEAN Caravan members to be different from other groups who came. Even as we served the food and gave away the caps and the t-shirts, there was merriment and laughter, song and dance.


Amy and I left some messages on the banner to lift the spirits of the local folks.


Ten years from now, I guess these kids will still remember this wonderful event.

After more than twelve weeks after the disaster, these survivors have returned to their homes and live in a more feasible way compared to the times when they were in the evacuation centres. However, to those who has lost their homes, or had their homes partially destroyed by the tsunami, they are still seeking shelters in the evacuation centres.

The singing, dancing and eating continued until three in the evening. Over the half-day journey, we witnessed stories of human chemistry and spontaneity. Heart-warming to say the least. Who said that the Japanese people are reserved? Certainly not in Ishinomaki! The volunteering activity ended with the waving goodbyes from the local people as the bus leave the place.


These people have lost many, some even their loved ones, yet they have heart as wide as ocean. They had welcome us, the volunteers, with big warm smiles and openness, and that indeed was a blessing and warmed us with great satisfaction.

Quoting from Dr. Jean F. Freymond, President of Network for Governance, Entrepreneurship & Development, catastrophes do provoke people to react in a way which underline their humanity, and thus they do contribute to change the world. All those invaluable parts of humanity - compassion, kindness, sympathy, solidarity, was clearly portrayed through this ASEAN Caravan.

~ to be continued ~

Related entry: Part 1: ASEAN Youth Caravan of Goodwill
Related entry: Part 2: Dorokaki At Meiyukan Of Ishinomaki
Related entry: Part 4: Thank-You Party For The ASEAN Caravaners
Related entry: Part 5: A Short Trip To Matsushima

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