Connections with Japan

Images of Sendai Before the Tsunami  
     Many years ago while teaching in Japan, one of my duties at Yokohama International School was to lead annual field trips, so during four straight years, I organized week-long ventures for a group of 30 or so eighth graders to Miyagi Prefecture. We stayed at a youth hostel in the hills near Sendai, and along with hiking and outdoor activities, we would visit various businesses and tourist sites in the area.  All of those places have now been changed by the biggest earthquake the country has ever experienced, and I would imagine some of those locations have been forever altered by the catastrophic tsunami that followed.

     Students at the international school came from over twenty countries, and since their parents were usually business-oriented, few if any of the teenagers had ever been on a farm, so we always scheduled an afternoon visit to a dairy farm somewhere in the rural area west of Sendai. It was a mom-and-pop operation, and I remember the couple wearing rubber boots and feed-stained overalls as they explained how the old-fashioned milking machines worked.

     Their young children would lead the students to the pasture where they would cautiously walk up to the cows and sometimes not-so-cautiously step in cow pies. The farmer explained how the small grinder helped him produce the feed, and his wife explained how arduous and relentless a milking schedule could be.  The couple answered questions patiently, and their demeanor showed that they loved what they did. I don’t think the students realized what dedication went into the operation, but they boarded the bus with at least some knowledge of the source for the cartons of milk at the convenience stores in their metropolitan neighborhoods.
A “yaki-imo vendor” selling sweet potatoes.
     During other days, we visited traditional sites in and around Sendai: a kokeshi doll “factory” that was really just a small building with family members who crafted beautiful wooden figures; an ancient washi paper “farm” where an old master of his trade made paper in the manner used during samurai days; a tonkatsu restaurant in downtown Sendai where the students enjoyed the popular pork on rice dish.
     We spent one afternoon at a Sendai junior high school. Our students listened to musical performances and toured the facilities, but it took a session of fun competitive games in the gym to really loosen everyone up.
     A disaster anywhere in the world brings horror and hardship, but when the vivid images on news networks and YouTube come from a place that holds special memories, it becomes that much more painful to learn of the suffering the people are going through.  Walls of water and fears of radiation dominate the news, but behind the headlines, the faces on television remind me of a middle-aged man meticulously painting lines on a wooden kokeshi figurine, a bent old man stirring the fibrous plant material that he would form into sheets of paper, teenage students sliding around and laughing in a cold gym, and a rosy-cheeked mother leading a milk cow by a rope with her child running alongside her.  My thoughts are with them and their neighbors.  
Dan Gogerty, CAST communications editor

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