25 Million

Met Koichi-san from Kobuchihama and Sachi-san, Shiho-san and Toru-san today. We talked about many things, but most of all about life after 11.3.11.

If the great earthquake of Tohoku and the following tsunami would never have happened… Then we would not be sitting here together. In fact, we would probably never have met. Though the earthquake was a disaster, there is always something good coming out of something bad.

Also got to know that the small, private volunteer group we joined have collected donations and arranged flee markets to collect a total of 25 million yen. All of it went into things for Kobuchihama and Fukukiura.

Tohoku Visit

This weekend was extended with an extra day due to a National holiday on Friday. We spent it with Sachi-san and friends in Kobuchihama and Fukukiura. Yes, we traveled the 600 km or so to Ishinomaki and then some to the peninsula outside of Ishinomaki where Kobuchihama and Fukukiura are located.

This time it was not to really do any volunteer work but mainly to meet with friends, talk, and spend some money in the area.

The one thing that always hit me when I visit there is how friendly everyone is. We drop by unannounced and they always invite you in, offering something to drink or eat. The food you are offered is almost always self-catched and home cooked – or home prepared because often it is not cooked ๐Ÿ™‚

We left Tokyo at 7 am and immediately got of course stuck in traffic, this was after all a long weekend so we were not the only ones traveling the roads. But it sucked nevertheless. We crawled our way out of Tokyo and once central Tokyo was behind us it speed up a bit. Still it was slow progress until after Nikko, 1.5-2 hours ride into our journey.

After a couple of stops and normal speed at the end of the trip we reached our destination around 2:30 pm. Our first stop was the newly built oyster factory in Fukukiura, but they had closed for the day. Instead we visited Haruto-san and his younger brother Kouichi-san in Kobuchihama for a talk.

Kouichi-san was packing sea cucumber in plastic bags for export to China – Chinese seem to like sea cucumber; me I can eat them but they don’t taste much and are kind of crunchy to eat. He also showed us where they dried sea cucumbers and awabi, and we tried a delicious dried awabi. We also got oysters cooked in their shells.

Around dinner time we went to Fukukiura to have dinner with some friends, a family that has helped coordinating the volunteer work in Fukukiura. After the dinner we said good bye and drove to Ishinomaki where we stayed at the Grand Hotel. On our way to Ishinomaki we saw a tanuki (raccoon dog) and about 20 or so rain deers.

On Saturday morning we returned to Fukukiura to visit the oyster factory. It was fun and interesting to see how to prepare the oysters for selling them. Most of the work is done by hand, including cleaning the oysters from blue mussels, open them, washing them to get rid of sand and other things. It seems to be hard and cold work.

We also met Haruto-san at the oyster factory. He was taking some people out in his recovered boat. His boat was pushed up into the forest by the tsunami but was recovered and was now back in a state as new – you can read about Haruto-san’s boat here.

After the oyster factory we visited a nori (dry seaweed) factory. They had quite recently invested a lot of money to automate it. It was interesting to see how the seaweed turned into nori, something that we eat on a regular basis.

It was now time for a coffee break and we, almost as usual, visited one of our friends for it ๐Ÿ™‚ While the others were drinking coffee and talking I took a stroll around the house and walked into the woods behind the house. I was interested in what they had done there since the last time, basically they had cut down some of the trees. And I found that some had taken the opportunity to do some wood art.

In the night we went to Meguro ryokan in Kobuchihama. They were full the first night but today they had a room for us, which included dinner and breakfast. We also got a visit during dinner time from some of our friends.

Sunday was return-to-Tokyo day, but before we returned home we drove around visiting friends. Talking and saying “bye” for this time.

Our final stop was at a family where we got oysters, awabi, eel, and pickled Chinese cabbage to bring with us back to Tokyo. This happened almost everywhere we stop and the car was packed with boxes full of nori, eel, awabi, oyster, and even rice.

Before we returned back to Tokyo we also made a brief stop in Ishinomaki to visit some friends there. They invited us for coffee and snacks. We stayed there drinking coffee and talking for a couple of hours before it was time to leave. It was getting dark by the time we were on our way.

Visiting Tohoku

At 1 am on Saturday morning we departed Sachi-san’s house in our car. It was Chie, me, Sachi-san and Sakai Junko-san (Lifestyle, CBS News).

It was our first time to meet Sakai-san and halfway through our visit we got to know that she was a top selling author. One of her most famous books is called “The Grumbling of Losers” – a book about single, childless, thirty-something women and who are defined as losers vs. married women with children who are defined as winners.

This visit was not about distributing anything but all about Sachi-san talking with people to understand what they need from now on. As usual they are all so friendly and invite us into their homes when we visit and offer us home cooked food, almost always that they have caught in the ocean.

Since we did not distribute anything we had more time than usual and it was more relaxing than usual. We even had time to join Sasaki-san when he used his boat to pick up some families from an island where they had done volunteer work. It was hot and humid and it was really nice to take a swim while waiting for the families to come down to the boat.

Saturday night we had dinner at the Meguro ryokan in Kobuchihama. It was fish and fresh sea urchin that was still wiggling its “nails”. Halfway through the dinner we were joined by friends from Kobuchihama. Koichi-san offered us to go fishing with him… at 2 am :-O Too early and too little sleep two days in a row and driving home later on the same day was not going to fly. But we decided to meet him in the harbour at 8 am in the morning to pick up some fish, and the next time we will stay 3 days so we can join him to fish.

The coolest part was that when we had got the fish from him he was backing the boat out by remote control. He was not in the cockpit but out on the board or whatever it is called in seaman language. Ooh, he also showed us the biggest flat fishes I have ever seen in my life.

Around noon on Sunday we went to Ishinomaki to have to spend some money in Tohoku and to have lunch. We stopped at a kind of market place where all bought some sea weed and other local produce from the ocean. I did not, but I caught a cool super hero with my camera before he took off ๐Ÿ™‚

Mekabu and Wakame – Day 1

This weekend we went to Kobuchihama and Fukukiura outside of Ishinomaki in the Tohoku area. We went together with Ishihara-san to deliver some donations and to help out making mekabu and wakame. Both are seaweeds or, rather, mekabu is the part of the wakame seaweed just above the root system.

We left Tokyo around 1 am on the night between Friday and Saturday. Chie and I shared the driving while Ishihara-san was occupying the backseat of the car. We arrived in Fukukiura early in the morning on Saturday and stopped at the temporary homes to meet our contacts there and to deliver some goods.

Once that was done we walked to the harbor where we helped out with separating the mekabu from the non-usable stalk of the wakame root system. You can see one of the locals doing this in the below video. Then you can imaging Ishihara-san, Chie and me along with 20 or so other volunteers doing the same… But in slow-motion ๐Ÿ™‚

After our work was done someone came and bought the 1 ton mekabu that all of us have prepared. Loaded it on a big truck and drove off into the sunset… Well, it was still midday but it sounded so nice ๐Ÿ™‚

We also had some time to have a look at where they were cooking konago that they had caught during the morning. Konago is a small fish, just a couple of cm or 3, and is cooked whole. Quite tasty in salads, soups and various other kinds of Japanese dishes.

In the afternoon we went to Kobuchihama and met Shinobu-san. We joined her families company where we helped preparing wakame. Basically separating the soft parts from the stalk. It was much more difficult work and I think I manage to make more damage than help here ๐Ÿ™‚

In the evening we visited Kasuo-san’s home and he and his wife invited us for dinner. It was a great dinner and we could try mekabu and wakame in various dishes along with some tempura and other dishes. We had actually planned to have dinner in Sendai close to our hotel but this was much better.

Project “Christmas”

The last 2 weeks we have been busy supporting Project “Christmas”. This is Ishihara-san’s latest support to Kobuchihama and Fukukiura. The goal is that everyone in the network in Kobuchihama and Fukukiura should get at least 1 Christmas gift.

You can find details at the Tohoku Donation pages.