Connect-ed Life

Connecting People's Lives through Experiential Education

SEA SQUIRT - ANTOINE BRUNERO, FRANCE  (CONNECT HOUSE STAFF) 2015.12.04~2015.12.11 (7 Days)

Introduction :

 It’s Friday 4th of December and I’ve been waiting for this time for a long time.

  I came as an Intern at Connect-House five months ago and until now I’ve been working as a Marketing and Communication Intern Leader in this multicultural Japanese Company based in Tokyo. 

 Few months ago, Connect-House Direction has been giving me the chance to register to a volunteering program in Ishinomaki. I know nothing about Ishinomaki exept the returns I got from 2011. I knew that this place was the more impacted area by tsunami but five years later I was not expected that this area was still holding volunteering organization. The only informations concerning my mission there was that I was going to help fisherman’s families in their daily work. I have a very good feeling with the ocean and I have no doubt about how efficient my work could be, But I can’t stop feeling nervous about it since December conditions in Ishinomaki are not so great and the stuff I’ve been bringing to Tokyo are not adapted to these kinds of activities. Plus I will be into a very “Japanese” environment and my language skills in Japanese are close to beginner level. Hopefully the coordinators who are taking care of my introduction into this host family are both speaking English, I really feel that these two persons are going to be my best friend when I will arrive in town.

 I never really left Tokyo in 9 months living there and I am really looking forward discovering a totally new face of Japan, we all know what people think about capitals, I think it’s the same in every country in the world. I guess that living at this place even for one week is going to bring me a lot of good feelings and I hope that I will be able to help these people as much as I can. Even if it is going to be for a short period I am looking to get a lot of exchange with these people, I really want to feel the life style contrast and feel integrate in their community.

 I’ve already experienced volunteering mission for few months in Indonesia but the context here is totally different, in this case the issue is way more complex, since 2011, life of these people have been radically modify by something nobody can control. I guess that there is still issues there but I was not thinking that the consequences of the earthquake and the Tsunami will be still so visible, especially in a country like Japan.

 DAY 1: Friday

 I can’t sleep in the Thursday night, My Shinkansen, the next morning is at 12:20 and I can’t stop thinking about this new adventure, exciting or nervous, I can’t say but anyway, my bag is ready since a few days and I am pretty sure that I have everything I may need. I am now leaving Ikegami Station and my responsibilities at work and I am heading Tokyo Station where the famous Japanese bullet train is waiting for me. After one hour and a half I reach Sendai and I will need 1 hour more by local train to finally arrive at Ishinomaki station.

It’s raining, my expectation about the weather were true, it is cold, very cold. My coordinator, Yamamoto-San alias Yama Gen is showing up and bring me to PeaceBoat center where the ImaCoCo project is located. He is speaking very well English, that’s makes me happy and make me feel more comfortable. On the way to PeaceBoat center we are talking about what I am doing in Tokyo, why I’ve been choosing Japan and these kind of basic subject, I feel that he is trying to see as fast as he can which kind of personality I have. I will discover it later but in this situation of host family integration program everyone is very nervous, the family of course, they will have a foreigner leaving with them for one week, the volunteer too but also the organization itself just because they realize that both of the side are nervous. I am telling him that I am not difficult and I am sure that everything will go very fine, he is laughing and tell me that he hopes that I will have a good experience too.

We just arrive to the PeaceBoat Center I am meeting another coordinator, her name is Michiko San. They will give me both a brief introduction about their ImaCoco project, their experience, the actual situation in Ishinomaki and why I am here for. Some many questions that I’ve been asking myself and I can finally get my curiosity satisfied. Yama-Gen was working for PeaceBoat organization, at the beginning the aim was to travel with a cruise ship and stop at different harbor to help the population. After 2011 he decides to come to Ishinomaki, a place that he never been before and since June 2012 he has been trying to find the best way to help the Fisherman from Ishinomaki, this community lost absolutely everything after the disaster.

Fishing is one of the most dynamic economy in this area, a lot of fisherman were unable to work properly for months and for some of them years, they have been losing their partnership with sellers, the situation today is not only materials issues but also, how they could get competitive on the market after a sudden stop of their activity.

 

 

 

 

 

For the first year Ishinomaki have been seeing a lot of volunteer, the first mission was to clean the remains after the tsunami. During one year the average number of volunteer was close to 7000 volunteers. All these volunteers were trying to respond to the most urgent global needs. The problem is that the peninsula is very large and many small villages has been facing some specific needs. How to coordinates these volunteer to make their work more efficient, not necessary just in Ishinomaki but in the entire peninsula, that’s how the ImaCoco project appear, the idea was to send these volunteer in host family everywhere in the entire area, creating an equitable exchange between valor and labor. The number of volunteer have been decreasing to reach less than a hundreds of them today.

Both of my coordinator are from another place than Ishinomaki, and both of them have been experienced international life style, so why did they choose this place. Both of them provide me the same answer, full of conviction. ““If we could not help here, we can’t help anywhere else”.

Yama-Gen ask me to show him on the map where Ishinomaki was located and looks like I still need to go back to school since I’ve been showing Tokyo instead of Ishinomaki. “No worries man, before 2012 even me I did not even know where that was”…

Then they introduce me which kind of job I was going to do there, I was really excited about knowing this because I got so nervous imagining myself leaving on the boat very early in the morning with the wind and the wave coming over the boat, I really like the ocean, I am rescue diver but fishing in this conditions is something that you don’t learn in one week. The job I was going to do was far away from what I was expected. “Do you know about sea-quirt Antoine? Your host father is into that business and you will help him preparing the next season”. My anxiety got washed away… After a brief description of what was sea-squirt, I still don’t get it, it looks like a very strange creature and I am looking forward learning more about it. I am tacking my gear, blue parka and yellow plastic boots and getting ready to meet my new temporary family.

We left PeaceBoat center to meet my host family who was inviting us in a restaurant, “I hope that you like kids!” I enter the room in the restaurant where my host family was and notice immediately three young kids running all over the table. That how I met Chihiro, two years old, Maho, five years old and Ko-kun seven years old, even if they are very shy as me I am sure at the first moment I’ve been seeing them that I will miss them at the end of the week. My host father Takayuki Atumi looks very young and his wife too, very different that the image I had of the old Japanese fisherman.

I am enjoying the fact that these two coordinator are here to learn more about my family, it’s kind of weird, I am acting very shy but I know that Yama-Gen and Michiko will not stay with me during the entire week. I playing with the kids, tacking selfies together, we are eating traditional Ishinomaki area kind of food like Shirako (basically deep fried fish semence) and Anago (Conger Eel and Tofu), they ask me if I was eating whale, I am sorry I love adapting myself to others culture but I just can’t do that! The dinner is going very nice, I start already really appreciate them and I don’t feel worried at all for the next few days, anyway they look very open and curious to learn more about me.

It is already 10:30pm now and my host father and I have to wake up early tomorrow, around 6:00am for my first day of labor, we decide to leave the restaurant and heading back home.

The apartment is a temporary asset for families who have been moved after the Tsunami, it is not very big, one leaving room/kitchen, and two bedrooms. I discover that one of the entire room is for me and they will be living at five in the other one. The mother is making green tea and we start trying communication without intermediate support. I did not get everything about what she was saying to me except that during the tsunami, she had two kids already during this time and she has been carrying them under her arms and runs as fast as she could, not the case of the father who got trap by the wave and had to swim out of it. Looks like a normal conversation for them but I could not imagine how scared I could be in this situation, they are laughing about it, I am feeling bad hearing about it.

Today was pretty long, a lot of information to assimilate but in the globally I am very happy to be here, I feel on my side that I am already part of the family even communication problems.

 

Both of my coordinator are from another place than Ishinomaki, and both of them have been experienced international life style, so why did they choose this place. Both of them provide me the same answer, full of conviction. ““If we could not help here, we can’t help anywhere else”.

Yama-Gen ask me to show him on the map where Ishinomaki was located and looks like I still need to go back to school since I’ve been showing Tokyo instead of Ishinomaki. “No worries man, before 2012 even me I did not even know where that was”…

Then they introduce me which kind of job I was going to do there, I was really excited about knowing this because I got so nervous imagining myself leaving on the boat very early in the morning with the wind and the wave coming over the boat, I really like the ocean, I am rescue diver but fishing in this conditions is something that you don’t learn in one week. The job I was going to do was far away from what I was expected. “Do you know about sea-quirt Antoine? Your host father is into that business and you will help him preparing the next season”. My anxiety got washed away… After a brief description of what was sea-squirt, I still don’t get it, it looks like a very strange creature and I am looking forward learning more about it. I am tacking my gear, blue parka and yellow plastic boots and getting ready to meet my new temporary family.

We left PeaceBoat center to meet my host family who was inviting us in a restaurant, “I hope that you like kids!” I enter the room in the restaurant where my host family was and notice immediately three young kids running all over the table. That how I met Chihiro, two years old, Maho, five years old and Ko-kun seven years old, even if they are very shy as me I am sure at the first moment I’ve been seeing them that I will miss them at the end of the week. My host father Takayuki Atumi looks very young and his wife too, very different that the image I had of the old Japanese fisherman.

I am enjoying the fact that these two coordinator are here to learn more about my family, it’s kind of weird, I am acting very shy but I know that Yama-Gen and Michiko will not stay with me during the entire week. I playing with the kids, tacking selfies together, we are eating traditional Ishinomaki area kind of food like Shirako (basically deep fried fish semence) and Anago (Conger Eel and Tofu), they ask me if I was eating whale, I am sorry I love adapting myself to others culture but I just can’t do that! The dinner is going very nice, I start already really appreciate them and I don’t feel worried at all for the next few days, anyway they look very open and curious to learn more about me.

It is already 10:30pm now and my host father and I have to wake up early tomorrow, around 6:00am for my first day of labor, we decide to leave the restaurant and heading back home.

The apartment is a temporary asset for families who have been moved after the Tsunami, it is not very big, one leaving room/kitchen, and two bedrooms. I discover that one of the entire room is for me and they will be living at five in the other one. The mother is making green tea and we start trying communication without intermediate support. I did not get everything about what she was saying to me except that during the tsunami, she had two kids already during this time and she has been carrying them under her arms and runs as fast as she could, not the case of the father who got trap by the wave and had to swim out of it. Looks like a normal conversation for them but I could not imagine how scared I could be in this situation, they are laughing about it, I am feeling bad hearing about it.

Today was pretty long, a lot of information to assimilate but in the globally I am very happy to be here, I feel on my side that I am already part of the family even communication problems.

 

 

DAY 2: Saturday

My alarm rang at 6:00am but I am very motivated what usually took me more than 30 minutes to get ready in the morning took me less than 5 minutes. Even if Chihiro, the two years old kid have been waking me up twice last night by visiting my room I really feel “genki” and excited to start my new life here. All the kids are awake and we are having a breakfast with the entire family, last coffee and then we are heading my host father and me to start working. I got really surprise by the time it took by car to reach his working place, around 45 minutes by car, for a fisherman it’s kind of unusual. First we are stopping by the harbor where he has his boat, to pick up some gears from it. First I thought that we will check at the sea-squirt but we left right over to his “office”, it looks like more a tent in the middle of two bay. On the way we stopped at his old house, the entire house get washed away and only the 4 pillar from the foundation still there, This family lost really everything, the all family was living there, the parents, gran-parents and kids and all their souvenirs (like diploma, pictures…) that Japanese love showing in their living-room get destroyed. If only the parents and kids are living together, where is the rest of the family? I feel too scared to ask this question and by the way I think about it we were already arrive.

So what will be my job today? Right now, for sea-squirt winter is time for the fisherman to make the new season ready, they are not using their bat so often and the main part of their job is to create Oyster line with Oysters shell. This work is very repetitive but it give us the chance to communicate during doing it since it is not so mind focusing labor. We had time to talk about our respective family and I can really feel that he wants to learn more about me and I really want to learn more about him. Even the language barrier is difficult to get throw it we both try to find our words to express ourselves. It is a great feeling and I am happy that he is so open minded.

We both get our “bento” from my host mother, and we decide to eat it in his «administrative” office, just another container with a desk and a piano inside.

Our morning work is done and he has a meeting in the afternoon, so he decide to bring me back in town to meet Yama-Gen with who I will spend the rest of the day. We start getting out of easy topic to discuss about but he still wants to keep going communicating. “Girlfriend”?

I am meeting Yama-Gen and he decides to show me by car the entire peninsula and here we go for another long drive. We stop by different village and Fisherman Collectivity to show me how fisherman are trying to restart an economy here. I get to know one of the Japanese volunteer working here, he already has been spending a week here and decide to extend for another week since he really enjoy that place, he is kind of old as a volunteer and I think That the ImaCoco project accept people of this age, he speaks very well English and looks like having a very nice working experience background. I did really appreciate meeting him and I hope that I will have the chance to meet him again.

We are now leaving the fisherman collective and he decides to show me the place where the Tsunami was the most violent. We arrive in a bay, totally empty, except some construction truck there is nothing from the sea level until twenty meters altitude deeper in the landscape.

We are now in front of the hospital were people were supposed to evacuate in case of Tsunami, hundreds of people get there to watch at the tsunami coming. This place located at around fifteen meters get completely washed away. People will never expect that this could be so powerful, even myself, I am now at the exact place where they were and I could not imagine how the waves could have been reaching that point.

The hospital is now one of the only building remaining in the area, I am asking Yama-gen how five years later, this area could still be so empty. The answer is kind of surprising… The construction are considerable, they are cutting entire mountain to make the ground five meters higher than the original position. Plus, due to the Olympic in 2020 in Tokyo, a lot of Construction Company have been answering to the tender of building the asset required for this kind of event. The end of the construction have been every year delayed by one year.

We are now heading to the sports complex, because he wants to show me how they transform it to host temporary residential area. They build in the basketball field and residential area made by the container used for maritime transport. A good way to answer the need by using something that could be find at a large scale in this area. It is still kind of special to look at these building in the middle of the basketball field.

We are leaving this place, and I feel like a just got too many information, how these people could still live in this area, if that happen in France I don’t think that people could handle this situation. It is very respectable.

It is almost the end of the day and we are meeting randomly my host father in a convenient store, Yama-Gen has another meeting later on. I decide to come back home, “Tadaima”!

                                                                              

To be continued...

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