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 four, we find ocean liners scattered through the burned remains of Kesennuma, look for bodies in the missing city Rikuzentakata, start our investigation into the looting, rape and murder we had heard about and battle feelings of helplessness.
Two days ago, I had mentioned to a friend of Enson's how pleased I was that there was no crime and looting here.
"Dude," he responded, shaking his head. "There's loads of looting going on up there, man. Armed gangs raping and murdering people and there's no police to do anything about it."
That story had haunted me for the last two days. I knew that there was no police there. I needed to understand the psychology behind someone who would kill or rape an evacuee. Knowing exactly how Enson would react, I suggested that perhaps we should try and find the gangs and confront them. He predictably greeted the idea with enthusiasm.
We had heard that the Chinese mafia was responsible for some of the crime in the affected areas, and if that was indeed so, Enson had contacts that would know. He called and had them investigate it. We hear a lot of rumors up here and these stories may not even be true. But if they were, we wanted to do something about it. We are waiting to hear back.
During our commute to the disaster zone, Enson talked about the 28 days of jail time he served in 2008 and about his 2010 pilgrimage through 108 temples on the island of Shikoku.
Enson is intent on learning from every experience in his life. Jail taught him patience and spirituality. The pain of walking 800 miles in 30 days around Shikoku taught him how to push himself through mental and physical barriers. Both experiences gave him appreciation for the simple things in life. I think this appreciation is what drives him to help the people in the evacuation centers here. He knows how good a small luxury can be when you are in need.
As Enson was telling stories of spirits in the forests of Shikoku, I noticed all of a sudden that the river we were driving along was covered in debris. I looked at the GPS and we were still 10 miles from the coast. The damage grew exponentially worse as we continued and soon the GPS indicated that we should now be in Rikuzentakata. We were still five miles from the coast, but there was not a building in sight. As far as the eye could see in any direction, there was nothing but piles of cars, rubble and people's belongings.
The town of Taro was 5,000 people. When I saw the damage there yesterday I was stunned to the point that I could not feel or say anything. Rikuzentakata was five times the size of Taro, and it was also completely gone. It seemed impossible.
The reason we came here is because we heard that there was a dam that had hundreds of bodies stuck in it and authorities were apparently unable to get them. We asked some people who were walking around the rubble where the dam was but no one could give us a straight answer. Orientation is difficult when you have no landmarks. We decided to get out of the car and walk.
As we were preparing to head out Enson said, "Are you ready for this?"
I replied that I was. "Me too," he said mostly to himself.
We looked for the dam for some time and along the way followed our noses, trying to find bodies so that we could show the world what we were smelling. We felt it would illustrate all too clearly how little was cleaned here. Our search was in vain. We later learned that the dam was completely destroyed, and with the seawall gone and the high tide, the bodies remained hidden underwater.
The large fishing town of Kesennuma in northern Miyagi prefecture was an entirely different picture of devastation.
The tsunami here had swept fishing boats and enormous ocean liners up to half a mile inland and sparked a fire that raged for four days when fuel from the grounded vessels leaked.
It was now one month since those fires were extinguished, and not even a start had been made on the clean up. A road was cleared, and the visible bodies were removed, but that was it. Ships were scattered through the charred city like toys, and the ash combined with the stench of burned flesh, was so bad that we were unable to get out of the car for more than a few minutes at a time.
Over the past two days, we had seen two cities damaged beyond comprehension and two cities completely wiped off the map. There was nothing positive to take away from the situation. There were clearly thousands and thousands of bodies stuck in those wastelands and there are only a handful of military personnel looking for them. We saw no police, no aid workers and no other press.
Enson and I talked at some length about the crushing feeling of hopelessness.
"If everyone could just see and experience this," he started. It was tough to finish sentences.
When I got back to my hotel room in Morioka, some friends in Tokyo called me to see how I was doing. Until that point I had kept my emotional guard up. As I was explaining the damage, the smell and the utter hopelessness I was feeling, I finally broke down.
Tomorrow, is Enson's 44th birthday and we will finally be returning to the evacuation centers to try to bring some smiles. Not only to the evacuee's faces, but also to our's.