Noodly heaven at Kyoto Station

Been looking forward to that first meal in Japan? Well, why not slurp down some delicious noodles at Kyoto Station straight off the train from Kansai Airport? Surely there could be no better welcome to Japan than a chilled plate of ‘zaru-soba’ in summer, or a steaming hot bowl of udon in autumn or winter.

Plastic food at Kyoto Station

Tasty plastic food… or is it! That tempura looks real to me

On many occasions I have arrived at or departed from platform 30 at Kyoto Station. Home to the Haruka Express which runs between Kyoto and Kansai Airport, platform 30 has at its entrance a small noodle restaurant. How many times I have walked past this modest establishment (or perhaps more often than not, late for my train, running in an ungainly fashion, shoulder bag swinging as I attempt to pull my luggage along behind me in a frantic rush to not miss my departure and more likely than not, my flight!)? It is hard to say but I had not once stopped and thought to myself why not go sample their tasty fare.

That is until today!… Or rather 9 days ago now I have finally published this post. Fresh off the train from KIX, I was meandering along the platform with only a handful of other new arrivals when I felt myself being drawn towards the plastic depictions of noodles promising a noodly heaven and perhaps more pertinently, having missed breakfast on the plane (those final minutes of what passes for sleep on long haul flights were worth far more to me than some cold meats and a ropey croissant), satisfaction for my quietly murmuring stomach – “Feed me, feed me” – well at least that is what I assume it was saying anyway.

Udon Kyoto Station

I can’t get no satisfaction… or maybe if I just get in line, then I can!

I joined the queue of suited salarymen, gave my order – “udon kudasai” and mere seconds later was handed over a bowl of the steaming hot thick white noodles. From the help yourself tempura I selected a prawn, a thick, flat piece of squid and just for good measure, tempura ‘nasu’ – aubergine. At the end of the counter were the essential condiments – spring onions, fresh ginger paste, soy sauce, “sauce” and my personal must have, shichimi, a mixed chilli spice. Fortunately I was not the only diner with major luggage so didn’t feel to awkward as I clumsily made my way to the window-side counter to take my seat and tuck in.

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And 10 minutes later it was all over. And now that a week has passed, my Kyoto Station noodles are but a mere memory. But I will be back! These might not have been the best noodles in the world. They might not even be the best noodles at Kyoto Station. But for a first meal back in Japan this was true noodly heaven. Yokosou Japan!!

Photos from It’s Not Just Mud

If you want to donate to ItsNotJustMud and help with the incredible work they are doing in Tohoku, please follow this link http://www.justgiving.com/insidejapantours-ishinomaki

This is my final blog post from Ishinomaki where I have been very privileged to spend a week volunteering with It’s Not Just Mud.

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The dream volunteering team: Stephen, Kenji and I.

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Our mission: to lay a new floor in Nakada-San’s office. It’s Not Just Mud are helping to renovate this building which will be the headquarters for a fishing company. The business will buy seafood from local fisherman and sell it on to buyers across Japan.

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My job? Burning waste wood and making the tea…

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…except somehow I managed to melt the lid to the kettle spout?!

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Insulation down, floorboards halfway there…

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…so time for lunch.

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The best meal yet.

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Rice mountain.

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In the afternoon they let me loose with the rotary saw, hahaha!

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And a bit of hammering.

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Job done. An excellent day.

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If you want to donate to ItsNotJustMud and help with the incredible work they are doing in Tohoku, please follow this link http://www.justgiving.com/insidejapantours-ishinomaki

The Tsunami Coast

Although my time volunteering with It’s Not Just Mud is drawing to a close, we managed to find time between shifts to venture down to Onagawa Port where the tsunami devastation is most evident.

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This photo was taken from the hospital, 16 metres above sea level.

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The hospital. The waves reached up to the first floor, 18 metres in height. The third wave swirled around the building killing 16 people inside on the ground floor. Other people managed to escape by climbing up the mountain to the temple behind the hospital.

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The view inland from the hospital. There used to be hundreds of buildings here. The tsunami waves filled the entire valley and all the buildings were swept first inland, then dragged back out to sea as the water receded.

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This was the ferry port waiting room, the building now turned completely on it’s side. The shell of this building is going to be kept as a reminder of the tsunami, while the area around it has been flattened and new construction work begun. The plan is to raise the level of this area by 5 metres, then build the shops, banks and port buildings as a new commercial centre. Residential areas will be built further away on higher ground.

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Driving through Onagawa. This area was once full of houses and the train station was here.

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Into the next valley, and we could see the clean up in operation. I have never seen so many diggers in action in one place.

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Hundreds of lorries at work.

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Huge mountains of rubble.

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We drove up to Onagawa school where many people who lost their homes are now living in temporary accommodation. Apparently this is the best housing shelter in Tohoku, designed with communal spaces, container shops and a community centre; a lot less depressing than elsewhere.

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Here you can see the temporary houses have been built on the school’s basketball courts.

Two nights ago a couple who run a local cafe and are living in temporary accommodation came to chat to the volunteers. The lady joked about the thin walls and having to creep around her tiny living space. She was full of high spirits, but it was heartbreaking to think she had lost her home.

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A noticeboard showing drawings of people missing since the tsunami.

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I am most grateful to my fellow volunteers Kenji and Stephen who guided me around Onagawa today. Kenji speaks fantastic English and was our translator as well as driver, stopping whenever we wanted to take pictures. Stephen is a freelance journalist and has made five trips to Onagawa since the tsunami happened. He recounted the tsunami stories of the many locals he has befriended in the last 20 months.

At times it felt uncomfortably voyeuristic to be poking around the tsunami damage. But we were not the only ones; coach loads of Japanese come every day to the town. They say seeing is believing, and visiting Onagawa was a powerful experience I won’t forget in a hurry.

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If you want to donate to ItsNotJustMud and help with the incredible work they are doing in Tohoku, please follow this link http://www.justgiving.com/insidejapantours-ishinomaki

 

Life in the It’s Not Just Mud community

Hello again from Ishinomaki. Today I thought I’d share photos of life in the It’s Not Just Mud volunteer house.

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It’s very much communal living here, with around 20 volunteers staying in two neighbouring Japanese style houses. It’s been amazing to get to know volunteers from Japan, the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Norway, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand and the US in just a few short days.

Some people are short term volunteers like me, while other have been here for a month to a year.

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I had the pleasure of working with two deaf Japanese ladies and their sign language interpreter. My Japanese is pretty basic and involves a lot of gesturing anyway, so it was really fun to learn the official hand signs for the Japanese words I already know. Such lovely, lovely people.

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The main entrance to the first volunteer house. In the next few weeks the volunteers will be moving to another building.

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The communal kitchen.

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The volunteers take it in turns to cook and the food so far has been gooooooood…

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My room – not always this messy! I’m sharing with two girls from Germany and the US. They’ve both been here a month so are showing me the ropes.

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This is the main room where everyone gathers to eat and socialise in the evenings.

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The all important noticeboard assigning tasks, teams and start times for the next day.

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For short term volunteers there’s plenty of equipment that can be borrowed, from overalls to boots…

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…to very useful gloves.

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Finally, this is the loo! Very nice and clean. I’ve been so impressed by the lack of hierarchy here. Everyone simply pulls their weight to pitch in with chores, keep the house clean and work hard and with enthusiasm on all volunteering jobs.

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Every good house has a cat, of course :)

If you would like to donate to ItsNotJustMud and their great work, please follow this link - http://www.justgiving.com/insidejapantours-ishinomaki

 

 

 

Volunteering with It’s Not Just Mud

Konbanwa! I’m currently in Ishinomaki, a fishing port on the coast of Miyagi Prefecture that suffered the full force of the Tohoku Tsunami 20 months ago.

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I’m spending four days volunteering with the non-profit organisation, It’s Not Just Mud. Here’s my photo blog:

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Day 1 was on oyster duty assisting a local fisherman who lost lots of equipment in the tsunami. You’ve got to love my red overalls, right?

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We had to separate the shells, rooting out the curved ones. Pretty labourious…

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The curved shells will be used in the production of “Hoya” or sea pineapple – a creature that grows in shallow water attached to the shells. Apparently it’s pretty horrible tasting for a Western palette, but a delicacy to others, best served as sashimi and washed down with sake. It’ll take 5 years for the first production cycle, but in the long run this will be a real boast to the local economy.

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Day 2 took me closer to the coast, to the town of Onagawa. In the above picture the tsunami waves reached right up to the bottom of the trees on the left hand side. The area on either side of the road used to be full of houses. Hard to imagine what was once here.

One in ten people in Onagawa were killed in the tsunami. 80% of buildings were destroyed.

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Our job was helping to clear out this old, deserted house. The plan is to convert it into an office for a fishing company. The company will buy fish, crab and other seafood from Onagawa fishermen, then sell it on to buyers in other parts of Japan. Because the tsunami caused such a lots of damage to infrastructure, it’s been very difficult for Tohoku fisherman to transport and sell their catch.

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The before photo…

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…and after the demolition job.

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Above, fellow volunteers Kenji and Stephen with Nakada-San who’s setting up the fishing company. He told us how just before the tsunami struck he got on a boat and headed out to sea; the safest place to be. The boat tackled two 5m high waves, then stayed out at sea for two days while they waited for contact from the coast guard. They knew the tsunami was a big one, but had no way of finding out if their families were safe until they could get back to land.

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Nakada-San rewarded our work with some of the local catch.

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