Volunteering in Minamisanriku

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One of my key goals for this trip was to do some volunteering in the tsunami-affected areas of Tohoku, and a few days ago I finally made that a reality. Unfortunately, despite huge amounts of rebuilding work still to be done four years on from the March 2011 disaster, I found it surprisingly difficult to find information about any volunteering opportunities online. As such, I had all but given up hope of being able to make anything but a monetary contribution, when I hit on a couple of new Facebook groups and put out my feelers one last time for any available opportunities. As it turns out, I got a good response, with three possible options. However, by this stage of the trip, having previously been unable to find anything, unfortunately I had only a couple of days available in my schedule (between WWOOFing stints) to be able to volunteer; this ruled out two of the three options, which required a minimum week-long commitment.

So, I contacted the third suggestion – a non-profit organisation called OGA for Aid, which I could see from their website, undertakes a number of different initiatives and events in Minamisanriku – one of the worst-hit areas in Miyagi prefecture. Though there were no events on during the time I would be visiting, I received a reply saying that I could help with the Miyagi Green Farmers project, doing some farm/field work. Since I’m interested in growing vegetables and have some experience in that area, this seemed right up my alley! I checked out the project in more detail on the website, and got the impression that I would be contributing to help local farmers get back on their feet. Continue reading

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Touring through tsunami territory

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Yesterday I achieved another major goal of this trip: touring through some of the areas affected by the March 2011 tsunami. Exactly four years ago to the day, the communities along the east coast of Japan in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures in particular were ravaged by a tsunami (as most people would know). I’m not sure how it affected the rest of the world, but as a resident in Japan at the time, a bit like the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the US, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the disaster. Actually, I was sitting at my desk in the school staffroom and other teachers had seen the initial news reports on the internet, so we turned on the TV and watched a live broadcast as the wall of water crashed over sea walls and pushed inland, overturning boats and cars as though they were Tonka toys, and inundating everything in its wake.

Nevertheless, since the disaster occurred, I have felt a real need to experience it with my own eyes; to see the extent of the damage first-hand and not just through pictures. Indeed, I had hoped to volunteer early on to help with the clean up or rebuilding efforts, though my work schedule simply did not allow it. But now, 4 years on, I finally made it to the worst-affected areas of Iwate prefecture – around Miyako city. Continue reading

Time to go to Tohoku

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After spending twice as long as I originally planned at Redwood Inn, it was finally time to make a move and resume my journey northwards: On to the final frontier of Honshu (Japan’s main island), with my goal being to make it to the northernmost prefecture of Aomori. The north (east) region of Japan is known as Tohoku – a name that might be familiar now in the west due to the unfortunate earthquake and tsunami disaster of 2011. It is this region that has so far eluded me in my Japanese travels, and one that I was keen to embrace during the winter season.

Unfortunately, many roads are closed during this period due to large volumes of snow (and no need to spend money on expensive ploughing), so visiting waterfalls and hiking are basically out of the question in most cases. However, instead, there are amazing snowy landscapes to be seen and of course plenty of snowboarding opportunities… if you have the money… which I don’t!

Good to be finally back on the road again!

Good to be finally back on the road again!

Nevertheless, as I embarked from the safety and comfort of Redwood Inn, I quickly felt the old feeling of freedom associated with being on the road and going wherever the wind takes me. I first headed over to the west of Japan in Niigata prefecture, and started to wend my way up the coastline. It was about 10 degrees warmer than it had been up at Yamaboku, and despite a gale blowing in over the ocean, the sunshine and (relative) warmth were a welcome change.

The following day I took a coastal drive between Murakami and Tsuruoka (in Yamagata prefecture) that had been recommended to me, and although the weather was blustery and the beaches completely un-swimmable at this time of year, I could still appreciate the beauty of the rugged coastline, where waves lash steep cliffs and headlands with small coves and beaches in between. I then turned back inland towards Yamagata city, which is a large place sprawling on a plain surrounded by mountains. In fact, just 30mins out of the city I found my next destination – one I had been looking forward to for some time – Zao ski resort and onsen village. See this separate post for a rundown of my snowboarding adventures surrounded by snow monsters. Continue reading