Yamato-Damashii Diaries - Day 5: Smiles Return at the Miyako Evacuation Center

In the wake of the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, former Shooto heavyweight champion and Pride and UFC veteran Enson Inoue has been on a one-man charity mission, traveling to northeast Japan to directly help those in need.

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 five, it's Enson Inoue's birthday and we return to the Miyako evacuation center to bring clothes, shoes, toys and smiles.




Today was Enson Inoue's 44th birthday. For the last two days we had seen, smelled and experienced nothing but death and sadness, and so his present to himself would be the smiles at the Miyako evacuation center.

Enson's mood was entirely different. Heading into disaster zones he had often talked about his experiences with life, death and loyalty. When you are preparing yourself to see unimaginable devastation the conversations were predictably heavy. Today though he was different. Joking, laughing and clearly very excited at the thought of helping people.

When we arrived at the Miyako evacuation center, a converted elementary school that houses approximately 80 people, the atmosphere was dark. People sitting in their 10 square feet of personal space and staring into the distance, restless children being hushed by adults and the TV showing the news of the latest aftershock.

31 pairs of shoes, boxes and boxes of clothes, toiletries, fireworks, toys and sports equipment goes a long way to changing a person's mood when all they own is the clothes on their back and the blankets supplied by the Japanese military.

The darkness in the evacuation center seemed to evaporate. An excited but orderly line was formed and the supplies were quickly snatched up by evacuees with Enson talking to each person, asking what they would need when we return later in the week.

Young people were again socializing and laughing, children were playing with new toys and the elderly were lacing up their new shoes. Enson could barely contain himself, "This is the best present I could ever hope for," he would say every few minutes.

Some people in these centers are difficult to reach as they continue staring off into the distance, not noticing anything happening around them. Even after seeing what had happened to these people's cities and towns, it is still difficult to imagine what they had experienced. I often wonder if suicide will be a problem. Enson was determined to reach them though.

Enson advised the leader of the evacuation center that he would like to buy a treat for the people. Caught up in the moment, he seemed to try to think of the most difficult thing to get in Miyako: sushi.

Finding 80 servings of fresh raw fish would be no small challenge when almost the entire fishing fleets of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures were wiped out and the Fukushima power plants were still leaking dangerous amounts of radiation into the ocean. Unfortunately the excited leader announced Enson's intentions on the loudspeaker and the news drew a round of applause. We had no option but to succeed in our search now.

The stress from our financial issues and the memories of what we had seen over the last two days dissipated.

"Yes, 1,000 smiles would be better than 100 smiles but one smile is better than none," Enson told the people whose donations he was forced to return.

Unfortunately, Enson's birthday was spoiled by a phone call. A friend relayed the story of a baby that had apparently died of starvation inside the Fukushima evacuation zone. As with many of the stories we hear up here, details were sketchy, but from what we could gather there was now no food left inside the evacuation zone and there were people still there who were not able to leave.

Some calls to friends in the military didn't reveal any more details on the story but just the thought that this may have happened was enough to set Enson into action. One more phone call and he had ordered an Israeli military radiation suit, a mask and a truck. His plan was to seal up the vents on the truck, fill it with food and drive into the evacuation zone to look for people in need. He would also stop at evacuation centers housing Fukushima evacuees and see if there was pets that needed feeding or anything else they may need from their abandoned homes.

His heart seemed to race with anticipation. "Maybe this is it," Enson said excitedly. "Something is pulling me to go there."

Enson has talked numerous times of his willingness to die for a noble cause. To die like a samurai. "Yamato-damashii." Before I had ever met Enson Inoue I read a quote of his that perfectly sum up his philosophies.

"Live as a man. Die as a man. Become a man."

Reports varied wildly on how dangerous it was in Fukushima but if there was another explosion or fire while he was inside the evacuation zone then it could be very bad for his health. He knew of one friend that had lived only a few miles from the Fukushima power plants and so he would certainly intend to go deep into the evacuation zone. He was not planning to spend an extended period of time inside the radiation or deliberately put himself at risk, but Enson couldn't help but wonder if this was the noble cause he had spent his life looking for.

We had made a difference today but the news of the baby was a brutal reminder that it was just one step in the long journey ahead.

Tomorrow we take a day to rest, buy supplies and try to track down 80 servings of sushi for the people in the Miyako evacuation center.

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