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.

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

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?

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

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.

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.

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.

The before photo…

…and after the demolition job.


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.

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


10 Reasons why Japan is so great – No.8 Contrasts

Having already mentioned the fact that culture and tradition are so prevalent in everyday life everywhere in Japan this is pretty similar but worth a mention on its own I think.

Japan is a working synchronisation of old and new which is witnessed everywhere, but especially so in some of the big cities. I don’t think that there is anywhere else in the world where this contrast is so obvious and no matter how big or small, adds to the overall Japan experience. This contrast is one of the reasons why Japan is so great.

When planning a trip for people travelling for the first time to Japan, there are quite a few people who say something like, “I want to experience culture and tradition, but am not too bothered about spending time Tokyo – it’s a just a big city”…..it’s not JUST a big city….well it is, but it is here where you begin to notice the differences. There are many super hi-tec elements to Tokyo with its sleek skyscrapers, neon lights and trains that pass you overhead and underground. However, you will also find traditional areas such as Asakusa built around the Sensoji Temple or the quiet Shibamata district with single-rise wooden buildings, traditional shops and small shrines or the old fashioned Arakawa tram system that runs through Tokyo’s Otsuka district to name some of the more obvious differences.

One of the biggest contrasts to hit me, was when buying a gadget in an electronics store in Japan. This may not happen so often in the more popular districts of Tokyo, but you can still head into a small electronics stores and buy the latest electronic device.When it comes to making payment, the shopkeeper may tot up your bill on an abacus or tap in a figure to a big fat-fingered calculator. Meanwhile, the shop is being kept warm by a kerosene heater which is also being used to heat up a little kettle of water for the next cup of green tea. You know that there is the capability for a register to scan a bar code and bring up the price or a radiator/air-con device to heat up the room and a kettle that plugs into the mains….but it is kind of nice to see and seems right somehow. It seems very Japanese.

This is just one example of how Japan is full of the traditional and the modern living side-by-side and working well. It is quite cute in a way and is one of the reasons in my mind as to why Japan is so great.

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More family festival fun

An earlier post featured Uday and his family who travelled to the Tohoku region in summer to witness some of the biggest festivals in Japan. After supplying some great photos from their time at the Kanto festival in Akita, Uday has followed it up with a look at the Neputa festival  in Hirosaki – not to be confused with the Nebuta festival in Aomori….which they also went to!
Here is what he had to say;

After having a great time in Akita enjoying the Kanto Matsuri and a day trip to the Samurai town of Kakunodate and Lake Tazawako a little further up we left for Hirosaki further up north to witness the Neputa Festival – a scaled down version of the bigger Nebuta festival featuring large paper figurines on giant floats.

Hirosaki is a nice little town worth visiting for a couple days. The town is known for its Castle and Park where we spent a few hours just taking in the beautiful garden and what remains of the historically important castle – Although much was destroyed by fire, One of the two castle gates is still well preserved and worth visiting. Just a short walk away from the castle is the Fujita Kimen Tei-en house and garden which is well worth a visit for its well kept garden and traditional Japanese style home interiors.

The Neputa Matsuri floats were being prepared for the parade as we walked back to our hotel.

Later that evening all we had to do is step out of the hotel and stand by road side to watch the parade in full procession right in front of the hotel. The parade begins with giant size Taiko drums, followed with wooden floats of different shapes and sizes.

People of all ages participate dressed in all kinds of costumes. There was even an Elvis with one of the floats.

While we stood there, as (what has now become) usual, Japanese hospitality had to surface and extra chairs popped out for us to sit on. There we met Yoko who was very friendly, spoke English well and went to great lengths of explaining the meaning of some of the colorful characters on the wooden floats.

The hospitality had to extend into dinner at a noodle place right after the festival was over with Yoko and her friends and once again we returned to our hotel quite amazed at the free flow of hospitality and friendliness as in other parts of Japan.

After another day of festival fun, the next day we were booked to go to Aomori to see the much bigger Nebuta Matsuri…

I continue to be jealous of Uday and his family adventures of some of great festivals of Japan, but we hope that there will be another installment featuring the aforementioned Nebuta festival and the Tanabatta festival in Sendai to come soon. It is great to read about their adventures in rural Tohoku and hear about the random acts of kindness that fortunately happen all over Japan, making it the best country in the world to visit. I can’t think of many other places in the world that you would be taken out for a meal by a  stranger and more to the point,  where they expect nothing from it apart from your enjoyment of their country. I am very happy to hear that Uday and his family were able to experience it…..aaaaah…..Japan…what a great place!


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