Recently arrived back in Tokyo from another trip North and still attempting to unravel my answers to the natural question of ‘how was it?’ Perhaps this will help. The following is a documentary from Paul Johannessen, which interviews tsunami survivors about their lives, as well as featuring footage of Ishinomaki taken in April and November 2011.
The film is as moving as you would expect, but it is also a really accurate reflection of life in the ruined areas now that priorities are moving from short-term to long-term survival. Big questions about the future – some connected to issues which existed before 11 March – can no longer be avoided. Key amongst them is: where will the jobs come from? With high unemployment causing despair and an increase in suicides, it is as critical to rebuild the economy of Tohoku as it is to repair homes and roads.
Perhaps that can happen little by little, as with the physical rebuilding, or perhaps it requires a bigger effort towards a grander vision, one which it won’t shock seasoned watchers of the Japanese government to learn does not appear to be coming from Tokyo. Instead, groups like TEDxTohoku and Ishinomaki 2.0 are trying to bring people together to shape what needs to happen next for places like Ishinomaki to get past clinging on and start thriving again.
It won’t be an easy task, but if – as noted in the video – more people are inspired to begin ‘shaping our own place to live’, then it should not take too long for hope to return to the devastated areas of North East Japan.