Tuesday 22 March 2011
Thursday 17 March 2011
"This is for you to write down or draw about the things that have happened over the last few days, so you don't forget." I tell them.
The bigger children write, just the nuts and bolts at first, what happened and when. Little by little they fill in the gaps with how they felt, a few illustrations.
Sean draws pictures.
"This is me coming out of the pre-school door, and the verandah moving and me falling over." he explains.
"Did it hurt when you fell?" I ask.
"No, but it was really scary, and the lights were all swinging and we had to rush outside in case they fell down. And this is the window of the old peoples day care next door, all broken in little bits. These are the cracks going zig zag through the playground, and this is the water in the pool going KERSPLASH! over the edges."
His pictures start in black and white, hard lines and jagged edges. He draws a building, with rolling black scribble inside, then hunts for a red crayon from his bag and adds sharp angled lines. "This is that house blowing up!"
"The one on the tele?" I ask.
"Yes, that one." The reactor....
He draws a big picture of Mummy with her arms out wide. He draws the computer keyboard in brown. He draws all our faces framed on the computer screen in blue. He draws a light green dog...then another green dog.
I watch the children play hide and seek upstairs and downstairs in their uncles house, giggling, jumping out and surprising each other, squabbling over cards. This house that is our temporary home. It was built just a couple of years ago, simple, sturdy and with sound foundations. Beside it is the old family house, where Mikas parents live. The family have been here for four generations. The bedrock is very stable here, they tell me, and since we came I have not felt a single tremor, though the TV shows them all the time. Another level 3 in Mashiko, a level four in Ichikai, 5.6 off the coast of Ibaraki....but Minakami is still and quiet in the snow.
Down the path behind the house, beside the bamboo grove, along the edge of the rice feilds. I just need some fresh air. It was a low of -6C overnight, and a top of -1C today. The rice paddies spread white between the hill and the river. Icicles hang from the leaves of the bamboo. Below the house is a natural spring, "Benten no mizu" they call it, "Benten's Water". Benten is the goddess of wisdom and art, and this spring feeds pure water into the rice fields when summer comes. The water is so pure a small bottling company has set up next door and markets the water through local ski resorts under the brand name "Sekkasui".
There are many hot springs and ski resorts in Minakami, and most of the hotels and hostels are fairly empty at the moment. Mika's brother is on the local council, and they decided yesterday to allocate 100,000,000 yen to provide food and accomodation for a thousand evacuees from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima in the empty hostels. Many of them will have lost their homes, their families, and many of them will feel lost themselves. It will take a very long time to recover.
I walk to the path beside the river, and each step I take, my left boot creaks. It is not an unpleasant sound, rather like a small frog. I have checked; there is no frog. I walk to the highway, across the bridge, the snow flakes streaming past on the icy wind from the north west, a wind that will blow the Fukushima fallout out to sea. For the moment at least. There is little traffic on the road, there is no petrol.
I reach the local Supermarket, business as usual. In Mashiko the supermarkets were closed, and the convenience store shelves were bare of bread or rice or noodles or canned foods or milk or...Perhaps it is better now?
The television tells us that people in Tokyo are hoarding. The minister for internal affairs begs them not to. In Minakami, the supermarket is well stocked, there is no crowded queue, all is calm. Last decades Pop songs play quietly in the background. My heart is in turmoil, I do not know what to do. I was interviewed by phone from Australia today, radio and television. They want to know what I think I will do. Will I return to Australia? Will I rebuild in Mashiko? What do I think of the nuclear disaster...? I do not know, I have lived in Tochigi prefecture for 21 years, longer than I lived in Melbourne, or Bendigo, or Swan Hill...Japan is my home. But what can I do to rebuild a life that is safe for my family when the reactors burn unchecked? The brave souls battling the reactors are sacrificing so much to try to save other lives, three hundred thousand people are evacuated in the freezing snow, many without proper food or fresh water or heating. I walk around the supermarket, Aubergines are cheap. There is a red capsicum at half price. Some pasta, a few cans of tomatoes. There is no queue at the register, the lady gives me my change. I go to the table to pack my groceries in the bag. There is a box for donations for earthquake relief... I look at the change in my hand... I think of my children... I put the change away in my pocket and walk out of the supermarket with my groceries.
As I walk home to cook dinner for my family, snow flurries around me. Each step I take, my boot creaks. It is the sond of me going home to my family, for wherever they are, that is home. It is the sound of moving forward, one step at a time.
Tuesday 15 March 2011
Saturday 12 March 2011
Yesterday afternoon I was in the studio putting handles on some vessels, when the floor shifted under my feet as if I were riding a train. The house began to rattle and shake, pots began to fall from the shelves and the vibration became a roar. I opened the door and rushed outside, turning back to look at the house as I went. It was swaying, like bamboo in the wind. I turned to see the kiln chimney swing left and right, somehow not collapsing but widening cracks appearing up its length. When the roof tiles came sliding off the roof I began to run; the children were at school.
I ran the seven hundred yards to the primary school, the children were already in the middle of the...the house shakes again as I write...play ground, the teachers herding them to safety. The children are crying and... my god that is another earthquake...it's OK, we thought we might need to get the kids out of their beds...that wasn't an after shock, that was another earthquake...the teachers were trying to contact people on their mobiles but there was no service. I can see Canaan and Rohan, they are safe. The ground is still moving like a raft, the teachers tell me parts of the ceiling have fallen in the school but the children and staff are all evacuated accounted for and safe. Rohan's teacher has a son at the pre school with Sean, I tell her I am going there and tell the boys to stay with their teachers. I run.
The house and kiln are still standing. A cold wind is chilling the children. I set up a tin stove in the back yard and go inside the house alone to get the kids ski ware. The inside of the house is a mess of broken pottery and glass. Sora looks after the boys outside while I assess the damage. No power, no water, no phone. The roof is a shambles, the back wall of the studio and house is shattered but still standing, the bathroom is a disaster. I get the kids a warm drink and some snacks, then start to clean up inside before it gets too dark. As dusk approaches Mika arrives home. Mashiko was hit hard too, the museum and many houses. All the climbing kilns are damaged but there seem to be no casualties. There was a bus of American tourist at the museum when the earthquake hit and she couldn't leave until they were safe. We are all in tears as we hug. We are safe. We are home.
We get the house functional, I rejoin the stove chimneys and we get the house warm. We break out the emergency water supplies and I get a hot meal on the table by candle light. We send the kids to bed in their clothes, just in case we need to evacuate in the middle of the night. Aftershocks continue, sometimes minutes apart, sometimes half an hour. As we listen to the radio a picture of how wide the devastation is, and how lucky we have been, begins to form.
After a sleepless night, we face a new day. The town is providing emergency water and food at the town hall. Friends come to share what they have, we clean up as best we can and go to help others. We finally contact Mika's family, they are safe.
Houses can be repaired or rebuilt, kilns too. Pottery can be replaced, remade. Stuff doesn't really matter. We'll manage somehow. My family, my loved ones, are safe and sound. They sleep in the next room as I write this to you. I thank God. We are the lucky ones, and my heart and prayers go out to those who are not.
Thursday 3 March 2011
When Sora was born, Mika's parents gave us a set of dolls for her. Not the sort she would pretend to have morning tea with, but a set of "Hina Ningyou" (雛人形) to pray for her health and happiness throughout life. At the end of every february we set up the dolls, with a small tray of sweets as an offering. Today, March 3rd is the actual celebration, and it is traditional to have "Chirashi Zushi" for our meal this evening. Originally, this celebration coincided with the peach blossom season, which in the old Japanese calendar was the 3rd day of the 3rd month (弥生 yayoi) but is actually the 3rd of April in the modern calendar. However, when the modern calendar was introduced on January 1st, 1871 (Meiji 6), Hina Matsuri (the doll festival) was observed on the same numerical date, but actually a month earlier. It is therefore considered bad luck for the dolls to remain on display after April 4th. Many families in this area put the dolls away tonight, but it is Mika's family tradition for them to be on display till March 8th, though the reason is a mystery!