No Man’s Land
Rikuzentakata is a place that was very unlucky. I wonder indeed if this place will even exist in the future.
Founded in January 1st 1955 it is hardly a town with a deep history and long, worthy heritage, yet that doesn’t matter, it was home to around 24,000 people most of whom probably thought they were safe behind its formidable tsunami defences. Over 10,000 of those people are still unaccounted for after the tsunami hit on March 11th, overwhelming the tsunami barrier easily and obliterating it way up the valley of Rikuzentakata.
It was the last place I visited on a day of debris and misery when I was working up there. It was the emptiest, most silent and saddest town the journalist and I went to. We met almost no one there, indeed to try to interview people there would have been beyond insensitive. Stories in other places were upsetting and horrific and yet people seemed to want to talk, to spread the stress, to let out the fear but the stillness and emptiness of Rikuzentakata was palpably disturbing. People didn’t need words there to tell the story of their town.
The arbitrary luck of nature is a humbling thing and hard to deal with after so much pain. In other towns people were amazing at just getting on with it. But here almost no one moved and even the few houses that survived seemed abandoned. At the top of the valley is a house I remember particularly because in any other situation it would have looked like a nice place to live. It sat at the back of a small but open and pleasant garden which faced the sea. Its large view windows took in the vistas of this once picturesque valley and a spotless lawn of yellowing grass spoke of summer times relaxing in the coastal breezes, pottering about the flowerbeds or perhaps enjoying an alfresco beer on a star shot night of stillness and calm. The house was completely unscathed, perfectly the same as it must have been on March 10th: it was untouched yet the destruction finished at the garden fence where a splintered tide mark was piled-up against the wire strands of a boundary more decorative than excluding.
What must it have been like to stand in your large windowed kitchen or in your back garden just inside that small, neighbourly fence and watch everything you know get swept away in front of you. I can’t imagine such horror, such memories, such good and bad luck all happening at once that you cannot know which applies to you anymore. The owner of that house was lucky that is for sure, everything, literally everything below his garden is gone. And yet when he looks at what he survived to continue living amongst it is not so easy to see the fortune. Friends, neighbours, family perhaps and everything that makes a life livable has been swallowed by the ocean.
The house was empty: its curtains covering windows that reflected the grey sky and roses in the garden. It was, as I said a nice place to call a home and yet I cannot see how those that were lucky that day will be able to continue living there in their few remaining houses in a town that has so many other ghosts.