Yamato-Damashii Diaries - Days 6, 7: The Stories of Miyako

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 days six and seven, we meet an MMA fighter who lost everything and returned to Miyako where evacuees start to open up and reveal their harrowing stories.

Visiting the disaster and evacuation areas is incredibly draining. "Physically and mentally exhausted but spiritually fulfilled," Enson noted. It gives you an appreciation for the strength shown by evacuees. Many have lost loved ones and everything they know and they cannot simply take a break from the burden associated with that.

During our last trip to the Miyako evacuation center, Enson took orders from people who were stuck there with no car, no possessions and limited money. On our shopping list were clothes, more shoes, sports equipment, stationary and 80 servings of sushi. Although we were tired, we used the day to rest and stock up on supplies.





When the head of the evacuation center announced the day before that Enson intended to buy sushi for everyone, my heart sank. The Tohoku region fishing fleets had been destroyed and radiation from Fukushima had been contaminating fish in Japan. The thought of disappointing the evacuees was horrible.

Getting the sushi proved less difficult than we anticipated. It had been frozen, unfortunately, but a market in Morioka was able to come through with our order for 80 servings of tuna and salmon sashimi with no issues. When hearing that the sushi was for evacuees, we were given a significant discount and wasabi and soy sauce were provided for free. Generosity such as this is common when people find out what you are doing.

The next morning a friend of Enson's known as Yoshi joined us with a car full of cupcakes, shoes and supplies sent by fans to aid Enson's work. An American marine who had served two tours in Iraq and had provided support during the 2004 Sumatra, Indonesia earthquake and tsunami, Yoshi is also the tattoo artist for Enson and his family of followers and a passionate believer in "Yamato-damashi," Enson's motto meaning "Samurai spirit."

We had so many supplies that we decided to visit another evacuation center in the area first. Unscheduled visits can be difficult, and due to Enson's tattoos (typically a sign of the Japanese mafia), we were generally refused or forced to cut through a maddening amount of red tape before we can drop our supplies off for the people. To avoid the politics, we simply parked out the front of the evacuation center and announced that we had supplies and that people are welcome to come out and get anything they needed.

Although the shoes, clothes and toys were greatly appreciated, it was Yoshi's cupcakes that made the biggest impact. The homemade, American-style sweets were the kind of luxury that people do not get in this area anymore. This converted elementary school housed a significant number of young children and for the next hour they happily ran around with new toys, candy and cupcake icing all over their faces.

Just as we were finishing up at the first evacuation center, an excited man ran up to Enson with MMA shirts, keychain MMA gloves and emotional messages of support. .A former gymmate of Hiroyuki Takaya, Jin Hirano is a professional fighter who had operated a small MMA gym in Miyako, but lost the building to the tsunami. The only stock he had managed to recover was the key chains he had presented Enson with.

Talking at a million miles-an-hour, Hirano explained with pride that although he was forced to cancel a schedule fight, he had not stopped his MMA classes and was doing his best to continue despite the fact that he had lost nearly everything and that all public gymnasiums had been converted to evacuation centers. Enson promised to return with MMA supplies on his next trip to the area and a sponsor of the gym was moved to tears. Enson's commitment to come again and again to the Tohoku region means so much to these people. Many celebrities have raised money, sent messages of support or even done supply runs but few have made this kind of effort.

With sushi on ice, we made our way back through the rubble of Miyako to the evacuation center to drop off dinner and the rest of our supplies.

It makes a difference when you visit an evacuation center more than once. On the first trip, the evacuees are polite and thankful, but guarded. On the second trip, they start to open up. On the third trip, (and when you have sushi and cupcakes), they really embrace you.

During these visits, Enson tries not to become the center of attention, and when he is not talking quietly with the evacuees, he usually sits quietly off to the side. Dinner was served and the 80 evacuation center residents formed an orderly queue. After taking their sushi and desert, they all came to where Enson was sitting to thank him personally. Many of the people had believed that sushi in this area was impossible to find (especially in this quantity) and as the people sat down to eat, a round of applause broke out. This is the spiritual fulfillment that makes motivation so easy for Enson.

Bottles of wine, candy, more cupcakes and the supplies that people had ordered were handed out and bows of thanks followed. We spent the next few hours just sitting and the people really started to talk.

A young fan of Enson's seemed ecstatic as she snapped pictures and asked for signatures but she later told us, blinking back tears, that her father has been missing since March 11. The people of the Tohoku region have become so emotionally strong that you sometimes you forget that many have lost family members and friends.

One lady, a teacher at a small kindergarten, retold part of her horrific story. When the tsunami came at 3:21 in the afternoon she was looking after children and waiting for parents to finish work. She held my arm as she told me the kindergarten was destroyed but looking into the distance, did not finish her sentence. She told me how the evacuation center was lacking entertainment or distractions for the people and so Enson promised to bring radios and books. Although she was married, the kindergarten teacher was sitting alone in the evacuation center. Sitting for one month in an evacuation center with nothing but your thoughts must be excruciating.

Before I left the lady stopped me and pointed to her jeans, sweater and slippers. "All of this came from Enson," she told me. "Everything everyone is wearing in here came from Enson. Aside from the military, you are really the only people to come here. The wine, sushi and cupcakes are so appreciated. We don't get luxuries like that here. Really, thank you."

Tomorrow, we make our way back towards Fukushima, but not before visiting Minamisanriku, a town that lost 50 percent of its population to the earthquake.

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