In the summer of 2014, we visited Japan and stopped along the coast to see areas affected by the tsunami of 2011. Accompanying us were friends whom we’d thought we’d lost in that very tsunami. Ironic and reassuring at the same time.
What we saw, what we experienced, what we felt … it all made an impression. I can’t see someone sharing a space with such an occurrence — even separated by time — and not feel … well, something. I can only imagine what it was like to look up to see the ocean moving toward you, 125+ feet higher than normal at its peak.
Coming into focus
This is the first I’ve published anything I’ve written about the experience. A few years ago, I read March was Made of Yarn, a collection of literature (and even a manga) about the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 and related events.
But recently I’ve had occasion to read articles on subject, some pieces coming from the fringe. Stuff like how taxi drivers along the coast report passengers who ask to be take to the coast and then disappear along the way. And others a bit more harrowing.
Another one — altogether grounded in this realm — was a report on tsunami stones, which were places along the coast to warn future generations of past tsunami catastrophes. This was the article that finally spurred me to attempt to share my experiences visiting the coast.
Not broken, just incomplete
This post … It’s short, incomplete, as I see it, but that’s fittingly one of the feelings impressed on me along the coast. Once complete, thriving, now … still many years afterward … incomplete, scattered.
To remedy things (at least from a literary angle), I’ll add more. Maybe more to this one, but likely additional posts of a more personal nature.
Tamashige’s calloused hands picked up the metal chisel and hammer again. Fresh dust, dry and coarse, blanketed the ground at his feet. Dust – so much dust. So much it formed a pale nimbus around the base of the short stone pillar that was his work today.
He looked at his tools and weary hands, but couldn’t stop. He had to continue. He loosely cradled the tools of his craft for a moment. Then glanced at the stone before looking beyond it, his eyes coming to rest on the ancient mountain laurel still clinging higher up the hillside.
He turned, back toward the resilient shrub, and looked down toward Aneyoshi Town. What was left of it. Its rubble now littered the ground at his feet – broken beams, ceramics, roof tiles, even a fabric doll.
These items didn’t belong here, not on the hillside above the town. They belonged near the bay, not pushed and crushed, scattered by the irresistible, adamant force of a rising sea.
These things didn’t belong here – didn’t deserve to be covered in stone dust. He did. That was his calling. But he couldn’t understand why he still … was. Perhaps it was because he, as the settlement’s stonemason, was the only one who could carve these warning stones, the only one who could ensure the fresh, rough-torn impressions of the tsunami would reach others decades after he was gone.
“Present melts into past,” he murmured to himself, turning back to his work, “and past — that becomes distant memory. Unless it’s carved in stone.”
Future generations would see the stones, and hopefully take heed of their recessed words, which implored readers not to build homes between stone and sea.
Perhaps that was the reason Tamashige, the Aneyoshi stonemason, still lived. Perhaps he could invest his hope in that.