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Yamato-Damashii Diaries - Day 9: The Road Home

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 our last day we return to our respective homes, our trip into the heart of Fukushima is called off and Inoue reflects on why he is dedicating this part of his life to the people of Tohoku.

Last week we heard a story that a baby had died of starvation in the Fukushima evacuation zone. The food shortage in Fukushima was confirmed when the mainstream media reported that an elderly man had also starved to death in his home near the Fukushima power plants. We had assumed that there was no one left in the evacuation zone but some people were unable or unwilling to leave for whatever reason.

I had intended to write this last entry about our preparations to go into the evacuation zone.

We have consulted with a American marine nuclear expert, acquired a Geiger counter and dosimeter, purchased Israeli military radiation suits and made inquiries into renting a truck and getting the vents sealed for our drive into the radiation. We were to get a loudspeaker that would loop a message announcing that we would like to help if the people who remained in Fukushima needed food or would like to leave.

This all changed yesterday when the Fukushima evacuation zone was made a no-go zone for all non-residents. If Fukushima residents need access to their homes they are allowed to return for a maximum of two hours, but other than that, entry is now illegal.

We can only hope that the military will be evacuating all the remaining residents in that twelve mile zone. If people haven't left by this stage though I doubt that they will answer the door when the military knock. It's not difficult to imagine that many elderly people would rather spend their final days in their home rather than in a school gymnasium, even with the radiation.

With our plan foiled, Enson has returned to Saitama to continue raising funds and to make plans to return to Hawaii to do a charity event with his brother, Egan. It was difficult for Enson to make the trip as he is still on probation until December, but due to the work he has done in the Tohoku region thus far, Japanese immigration made an exemption.

I'm not sure when our next trip up north will be but I already feel the itch to return. As Enson said, "Our work has just begun Daniel-san!" He thinks it's very funny to make "Karate Kid" references. The big problem with charity work for events like the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami is that the public forgets and move on. The people who were affected by these disasters will be forever changed. Rebuilding the devastated cities may take years, but it is possible. Recovering from lost family and friends is another matter and they will need all the help they can get for a very long time. After personally meeting the people in Tohoku, I feel like I could never forget them but we have a long road ahead if we wish to truly help these people.

"I'm dedicating this part of my life (to this work), I've sold the animals that I loved and I'm literally spending all my savings now," Enson tells me on the drive home. "It's become more than just 'helping the people.' It started as me helping some people that I know but then when you go up there and you see the devastation and you talk to the people and see their spirits, that ignited a little fire in my heart that wanted to help."

"Of course it's for the people and I'm getting all this credit (for this work) but I'm getting so much out of this, " Enson continues. "The satisfaction that I get when I buy these shoes and a lady comes up to me and grabs them and holds them to her chest and thanks me for them, I'm getting so much out of this that people don't realize. I'm getting so much inspiration from these people, so much joy and spiritual enlightenment. Getting the smiles and getting the 'thank yous.' I'm buying joy, I'm buying happiness. You can't normally buy that."

I feel like I have come to understand Enson's interpretation of "Yamato-damashii" or "samurai spirit." In the MMA world, it's a catch phrase. Heart of a warrior, gladiator, samurai spirit. Generally meaningless phrases that we have all heard that one million times. For Enson though, it's more than a catch phrase.

His fighting career, his pilgrimage around Shikoku, his charity work in Tohoku, his philosophies on death and even his yakuza relations and time in jail were all about "Yamato-damashii."

"The way the samurai back in the Edo-period used to represent 'Yamato-damashii' related to a lot of what of what I thought and what I believed," Enson told me back in his home in Saitama. "Whenever I have a situation where I have to show loyalty or if I have to do something that scares me or is very difficult to do, with "'Yamato-damashii' you do what's right no matter what. 'Yamato-damashii' is not just a word, it's not just a past thing about the olden-day samurai – it's a way of life. It's a way to live life."

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