For his next visit to the Tohoku region, MMA Fighting joined Inoue to document the journey and bring new light to the ongoing crisis in Japan.
On day three, we stocked up on supplies despite financial issues, relive the nightmare of the tsunami and try to find the town that was Taro.
Today, we would be finally seeing the devastation caused by the tsunami. Enson had visited our destinations, Miyako and Taro, in his last trip to the Tohoku region and he was determined to bring a journalist there to document what he had seen.
Enson had grown an attachment to the evacuation centers in this area, and we stopped at a shoe store along the way to pick up shoes to bring along with the trunk full of clothes, toys and food we were already bringing.
Unfortunately, our issues with PayPal continued. PayPal had apparently labeled Enson as a "risk account" and was now shutting him down entirely. Enson was forced to return all of the $27,000 that was donated to his cause, forced to return the $6,000 he had earned from his rosary making business (despite the fact that he had shipped the orders) and paid hundreds of dollars in fees in the process. It made no sense to us. This PayPal issue was stressing us out beyond reason and detracting us from the task at hand.
At the shoe store we picked up 10 pairs of average-sized male shoes, 10 pairs of average-sized female shoes and 10 pairs of children's shoes. Somehow, we ended up with 31 pairs of shoes. Enson was still furious about the money troubles though and mentioned how it could have been 100 pairs.
The staff member serving us at the shoe store recognized Enson, and had heard about his work in the area, and so he threw in another large box of shoes, slippers and socks for free. We asked him if he would like us to mention his name or the name of his store, but the man insisted we mention neither, as his boss didn't know about the goods he was donating. He would "deal with it." I'm not sure what that meant but from what I could guess, it would be coming out of his own salary. It was easily at least three day's wages.
With a car full of shoes, clothes, toys and supplies, we made our way to the tsunami-ravaged coastal towns of Miyako at Taro. A one-and-a-half hour trip from our base of Morioka, the drive gave us time to attempt to prepare ourselves for what we would see.
Enson talked a lot about his willingness to die. He also talked a lot about age. As an incredibly proud and strong man, the weakness that inevitably comes with age seems to scare him. Dying in a manner benefiting of a man bearing the alias of "Yamato-damashii" or "samurai spirit" is everything to Enson. He talked at length about how death can define a man.
While weaving through snow covered peaks, Enson talked about his ex-wife and son who he is no longer able to see. His marriage was short, but his relationship with his son had affected him a lot. Although he is extremely accessible, Enson Inoue is a powerful figure in Japan, and the weakness that comes with having a family also scared him but he spoke passionately about his son.
At one point Enson said, "I was put on this earth to be a lone samurai and I will die a lone samurai." He places a lot of emphasis on the word "die." He has said this sentence many times before. He is one of the most powerful speakers I have ever met.
The outskirts of Miyako was fine. I didn't notice until I looked at the GPS that we had arrived. We checked in at an evacuation center to see if they needed any help. Only a handful of the evacuees were there though as they were all working, at school or digging through what was left of their houses. With no one there to help, we decided to come back later.
Driving further into the town of 58,000 people, the evidence of the tsunami grew and grew the closer we got to the wharf.
Footage of the tsunami hitting Miyako was one of the first videos coming out of this disaster that truly terrified me. I recognized a fishing boat that was washed over the 50-foot high seawall by the black wave of the tsunami and instantly lost my breath. That video had never felt entirely real but seeing this boat from the video made all that footage that I had seen over the last month all too real to me.
Speechless, we drove down to the bay area, passing a bank that had been looted in the days following the tsunami. Enson had heard that around $40,000 was stolen. I thought to myself how insignificant that seems right now. Houses in this area were still standing, but all the contents were washed away. People were lost, a bank's money seemed petty.
The houses and fish markets in the bay area were jaw dropping. A truck was sticking out of a what was left of a post office. A car was stuck in a second-story window. Only a few structures were still standing and nothing was inside. Piles and piles of people's belongings were strewn all through the area and photos, records and clothes could be found hundreds of meters away from the houses in the fish markets. Every time I saw a shoe I thought I was looking at a foot.
When I was young, I lived on a farm in rural Australia. I know the smell of a dead animal. I've also lived in a fishing town. I know the smell of dead fish. The smell in the bay area was the pungent smell of tsunami victims. With a mask it was bearable, but the thought of the source of the stench wrenched my insides. The streets were clear of visible bodies, but the debris was piled high. There was certainly bodies in there.
Enson was constantly staring off into the bay. After an hour there, he finally he snapped himself out of it saying, "When I was here a couple weeks ago, bodies were filling with gas and popping up in the water. I can't stop looking for them."
Dump trucks were gathering the remains of the destroyed buildings of Miyako and taking them to the wharf where four excavators were working on a pile of rubble that was at least five stories high in some places and was as big as a city block. It was only the tip of the iceberg. A large percentage of Miyako would be added to that mound in the coming months.
I had thought Miyako was bad, but the neighboring fishing village of Taro was in a different league entirely.
We drove through 20 minutes of tunnels and breathtaking beauty before eventually coming into a clearing where Enson said, "This is Taro."
"Where?" I replied.
He showed me the GPS. Taro, a town of 5,000 had occupied this sandy, barren plain. There was literally nothing there.
We continued driving and went to the Taro docks. There were two buildings left in this whole town. A hotel and some sort of building on the waterfront. I guessed it was a fishing building of some sort but there was no way to tell.
The hotel showed the height of the tsunami as the bottom three stories were completely demolished and the fourth story was covered in debris. A tire was lodged in a balcony window railing around 100 feet high.
Aside from that hotel, there was nothing recognizable. No way to tell where buildings were. No concrete foundations. No iron beams. Just sand from the tsunami and small mounds of cloth, wood and metal. We saw one TV. Five thousand people had lived there, and we saw only one TV.
Beyond sadness. Beyond pity, frustration or a feeling of helplessness. A city completely gone. I had thought that the footage and photos I had seen prior to coming here was just showing select parts of the city and that perhaps it was not that bad. But it was all gone. Nothing left. It was impossible to comprehend and beyond the scope of human emotion.
Two things struck me.
Firstly, there was no one there. Miyako had a few military personal around but not a huge presence. Taro had a sole woman picking through the rubble, looking for photos or valuables to take to a nearby city hall. We wanted to talk to her but could think of nothing to say.
Secondly, there was no smell of death and it seemed strange how little debris there was in Taro. Looking out into the ocean I saw why that was though, as large concrete blocks from the two 50-foot seawall were floating among pieces of Taro. The seawall that failed to save Taro. The iron gates remained, but the walls were bobbing up and down in the water.
Seagulls were circling the around the wreckage floating in the bay. It was a grim thought. but I couldn't help but know that the seagulls were smelling all-too-familiar smell that we could not.
As we were leaving the town Enson said,"I can tell we are in different places right now. I could see that they had cleared a bit of the rubble. That was a positive for me." I thought out loud that there were no positives in this situation. There was nothing positive to take away from that scene.
We drove the rest of the way in silence. I tried to sleep in the car but ... Taro was gone. I grew up in a town very much like that.
Despite the devastation that we witnessed today, we have heard stories of much worse. Tomorrow, we head south to Rikuzentakata and Kesennuma. Two larger cities that were unbelievably hit harder than Taro.
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