Author’s Note: This was intended to be the last part of my Tohoku series, when I went to the region 2 years after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. However, it wasn’t an easy series to write, and I’m going to leave it unfinished - much like the work in Eastern Japan.
There was one many among the group of volunteers who was clearly a little different- he was silent and looked at us with weary eyes. One of the volunteers introduced us and in that introduction, we learned that he was one of the survivors from that town. It took some time, but he eventually warmed to us, seeing that we weren’t just there for the money shot, to do unhelpful volunteer work for self-satisfaction and definitely not on a disaster area tour like many of the others he had seen pass through the town. In the interest of full disclosure, I was chatting with some of the volunteers, the following is what was relayed to me from other members of my group.
The following vignettes are this local man’s concerns:
- There are volunteer groups who charge the participants money to go to Ookawa Elementary School and do things like, plant sunflower seeds. This is done with the intention of lifting the spirits of the locals. What it actually does, is give the locals yet another thing to worry about- who’s going to water the seeds everyday after the volunteers leave? Further, it pressures them into spending time every day watering those sunflowers.
- There are many disaster area tours who come by just to see the school, take pictures, and leave flowers/burn incense without bothering to venture further to see the actual state of the town, or to ask how the residents are doing. Some people have even started vandalizing the school. He is the one that cleans up after all of this, and the flowers that had started to rot.