It is April. Mika opens the storm shutters and morning light streams into the bedroom, stinging my eyes and dragging me from my restless sleep. I do not remember all of my dreams, but they are haunted by images of falling masonry, moving ground and searching for the children. Mika strokes my forehead and whispers, "Good morning." She smiles. The dreams fade.
This last week has been hectic. Since our decision to establish ourselves here there has been no down time. A friend found us a 2 tonne truck for two days free use, and I drove back and forth to Mashiko with trepidation. The house needs to be cleared, paperwork put through the town hall, the kiln dismantled and moved, the childrens school affairs transfered...
The drinking water in Kasama, next to Mashiko, was deemed unsafe for children because of radiation. The list of produce unfit for human consumption grows. The nuclear reactors are not under control, though radiactivity is now leaking into the sea water rather than the atmosphere they say. The levels in the sea water are increasing. They say it will take weeks to get it under control. They say it will take months to seal the plant down. They say there is no immediate danger. They say lots of things. I suspect that they don't know. Neither do I.
We have moved a great deal of our things here now, most of the kitchen equipment, the dining table and chairs. It is difficult moving home when there is no empty home to move to. We are squeezing our belongings into corners, and what overflows I am storing in the hot house on the Sukawa field. I spent two days clearing the south half of the hot house, laying out palettes to keep our things high and dry till we have built our own storage. My brother in law's kitchen is looking like mine.
We have vegemite on home baked bread this morning. A taste of home. With all of us and Mika's parents and brother, we now prepare meals for a family of nine. The children set the table, we sit down together.
Putting our hands together we chorus, "Itadakimasu", the Japanese "Grace", we are grateful to receive this food.
It is good that I can now bake bread, as there are still days when there is none in the supermarket. Today there was no milk. Eggs are rationed, strangely there is no yoghurt...I don't know why that bothers me, it seems such an odd thing to be in shortage. Each day as I walk around the supermarket I check the labels to see where the produce originated. I am wary of contamination, albeit "within safe levels", and prefer fresh foods from Hokkaido or Shizuoka, as far afield as possible. Mika's Uncles have brought us vegetables from their own farms, near us here in the mountains. Our friends in Ichikai were relieved when their strawberries tested safe for radiation, and brought us two punnets while we were moving. Until now my concern has been to give my family a wide, varied and healthy diet...Now I pray only that it is safe.
The phone rings. It is the gallery from Utsunomiya calling to cancel my exhibition which was scheduled to begin on April 21st. There are no customers. Perhaps later in the year when things have settled down? "We look forward to exhibiting your new work." So do I. Till then there is a kiln shed, studio and kiln to build and a family to feed. I thank them for their efforts, I know that they are doing their best too. I hang up the phone.
Mika and I go to the local town office to register our new address. The other day we registered our move from Ichikai with the town office there. We fill in the forms, they check my Alien Card, we transfer the childrens school records. The papers are stamped, we are now citizens of Minakami.
The schools are close, and have either been recently rebuilt or reinforced to make them earthquake safe. The teaching staff are friendly and relaxed, understanding of the situation we are in and I believe they will be supportive of the children while they come to terms with their new lives. While we are at the high school it starts to rain. Whoever thought I would be scared of rain? But I remind myself that the prevailing winds come from the west, it's OK...it's ok..
Two letters await us when we arrive home. One is from the Ichikai town office telling us our house there is officially uninhabitable. It is reassuring to know that we didn't over react after all. The other is the quote from the builder. A simple square shed, 7.2 meters on each side, a half slab of reinforced concrete for under the seven tonne kiln, wooden frame and corrugated iron roof. No walls, windows or fixtures at this stage. Just foundation, frames and roof, everything else I will do myself as materials come to hand. 1,310,000 yen, give or take. It's only the first quote. We file the letters for later.
After lunch Isaka san from Gallery St Ives in Tokyo phones. He has organised a five person exhibition in Tokyo of Mashiko potters affected by the earthquake, and a percentage of the sales will go to help the rebuilding fund. Ken Matsuzaki, Tomoo Hamada, Minoru Suzuki, Yuchiko Baba and me. It will start on April 16th. Can I provide him with 50 pieces at such short notice? It just so happens that I can. More if he needs them...
Mika's cousin visit's, her three daughters will be going to the same school as the boys, she can also lend us the uniform for Seans preschool...
The stars are bright in a clear sky this evening as I walk with my family to the local hot spring. It is perhaps ten minutes walk, and only the residents of this district can use it. A priveledge we can now claim. Down the hill in the dark, the children giggling, the scuff of our shoes on the gravel.
Up here in the mountains the stars do not have to compete with city lights, and they twinkle merrily in the cold black sky.
The "Onsen" is little more than a shed, divided down the middle into men's and lady's. There is a small changing room on each side, and an honesty box in which to place 100 yen for the upkeep of the facilities.
The boys and I go through the sliding doors into the steamy bathroom, a faint sulfurous fragrance in the air. The bath itself, a four inch thick wooden box into which the hot spring water flows continuously from a pipe, is currently occupied by three old men. They stare at us curiously as we greet them, but as we scoop bowls of water from the bath and wash ourselves I explain who we are and before long we are chatting like old friends.
One of them grows cherries, the ones that Mika's mother sends to us each year, and he knows all about us from her. Another is the owner of the general store, apparently a distant relative.
The water is gaspingly hot as we sink into the tub, and I feel the tension leeching out of me into the water. We are not alone, though sometimes it feels that way, and with the help and support of family and friends we will come through this.
I walk behind Mika and the children as we make our way back home. Sean sets the pace, we all match in with him, we all stay together.
Tomorrow morning, very early, I will go back to the house in Ichikai to say my final farewells to the community there, who accepted me so warmly into their midst, and to pack up what remains for the final move.
It has been a long march from the housing commission estates of Broadmeadows in Melbourne to the mountains of Minakami in Japan, and fortunes seem to change with the wind. But I am not alone, and wither so ever the winds of fortune may blow, I will persevere.
I am a potter, and a potters strength lies in their ability to remain steady. Yes, the march has been long, but this last month has been the longest March of all. I am glad it is April.