I am a Tokyo-based businessman who was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan where my parents traveled after World War II as missionaries. In addition to my home in the Tokyo, I have a summer home in the area of Japan that was directly hit by the recent tsunami. I also spent many summers as a boy on that very beach that was hit, as my kids have in more recent years. After the tragic tsunami I felt the need to confirm the well-being of my "Japanese family" in Shichigahama (“7 Beaches”), the little peninsula on the Pacific coast that we love so much.
Driving down the hill toward the community of very close friends right above the beach below our own house was an overwhelming experience that is hard to describe, and any driving even in the truck was soon impossible.
All of our friends’ houses were scattered around in pieces, but most of the parts of the houses were simply gone, and debris was everywhere, from the edge of the water on up. I looked over at our house up on the cliff 60 feet off of the beach, through the trees, and it was there, but it seemed to have moved from where it normally sat. -- I later understood that that was because of the way the land had washed away at the end of the beach.
At this point, I hadn’t seen any people at all, but looking back at the former neighborhood of our friends, I suddenly saw a couple looking through the debris. I started back toward them and found that it was the daughter and son-in-law of our good friends. There was a lot of hugging (especially in contrast to the amount that is usually seen in Japan). One interesting thing about the last few days is that all constraints are gone; there is no posturing now that all of life is completely changed.
I immediately asked them about their parents and other family members, and they told me that all were safe and up the hill a ways where they were setting up a campsite.
It was a wonderful reunion--hard to describe, after the first sight of the community and wreckage, and not even imagining that any of them could be alive any more.
At that point, I checked other shelters, and amazingly instead of just finding names on a list, as I had hoped for, I found the actual people and had wonderful times of reunion. For a couple of days, I got all of the food out of our own house and all I had brought with me and passed it around. I got all of our old blue tarps and helped my friend build a nice new “house” out of old scaffolding pipes and the blue tarps.
During these hours, I hiked over to our neighboring fishing village where I had spent so much time growing up. The devastation is beyond imagination or even computer graphics in the worst disaster movie.
The places where many houses had been were simply smooth without even a single toothpick left on them, and other places looked like a giant mass of shredded wheat: a jumble of houses, boats, buildings, and human belongings, and cars jammed in every conceivable position – upside down, on top of each other, inside houses, and on top of walls—the pictures just simply don’t give the full impact, but they’re a start.
I walked through the whole length of the town and along the harbor where we kept our boat when I was a kid. The islands in our beautiful Matsushima Bay are mostly uninhabited, but for the few that are inhabited that I could see across the bay, I’m afraid they are no longer.
I’ll never know why, but in one huge pile of debris I pulled out a broken wooden board you can see in a picture and painted on it in Japanese kanji was “Shu wa waga....” in English, “The Lord is my Way” including the unfinished kanji at the end. Japan just doesn’t have signs like that, let alone the one in a million chance of finding the broken piece in the piles and piles of devastation. I am convinced it is a message from God for the people of Japan.
As I initially drove north for many hours, my optimistic hope was that I would find names of some of my friends on a list, showing they had registered at a shelter. But after finding the actual people in just a couple days –– I found a sense of renewed hope and am convinced that this can be a time of renewal and in many ways, new life.
The Japanese are resourceful, resilient people in any circumstance, and I believe the world will see an example of courage and determination in the months ahead, and with it, amazing Grace.
Philip R. Foxwell is a longtime Japan resident and the founder of Foxmark International.