We left Tokyo on Monday the 28th of May on the overnight bus to Fukushima. Being a Japanese bus it was quite comfortable and most of us slept relatively well. Another bus trip first thing in the morning (followed by a taxi ride) we arrived in Minamisouma at the volunteer centre where we were kitted up with our boots we had bought, long sleeves & trousers, gloves, mask and a towel for our heads. We had been assured that the area was safe by many independent people. We had a geiger counter as well which showed very low readings.
Luck was on our side again as we had an English speaking Japanese volunteer Mr Takeda in our group who could enrich our experience further and allow us to understand more of what we were seeing and doing.
We were to go to a recently opened part of the seclusion zone 18km from the reactor to help make the yard safe for an 80 year old woman Mrs Sakaida to return to her home which had been effected by the earthquake rather than the tsunami. Her house backed onto a shale type rock wall and a lot of that had fallen down behind her house. We dug all of the rock and mud out leaving behind a drainage trench. We heard that she had lived in this house her whole life and had tended the rice paddy below for decades. The rice paddies were flooded by the tsunami (she lives 4km inland) but luckily her house was built on higher ground so escaped the damaging water. She was so appreciative of the help and treated us to biscuits and drinks. She cannot stay in her house at night as there is no electricity or running water at the moment.
We left her house and were driven around the surrounding area. There were houses left exactly as they had been 14 months ago. The families abandoning them completely. We saw the organized cleanup efforts with piles of mattress, smashed cars, cables roof tiles and rice paddies that still had people in groups cleaning the plastic that was trapped. We could see a few 2 story houses where the tsunami had completely ripped through the first floor leaving the 2nd floor intact and balancing on its stilts. We went to the sea wall that had been breached which gave me goosebumps. The wall was at least 5 m high and a huge section of it had just been washed away with the power of the water. I tried to imagine what it must be like to see a giant wave 20+ metres high bursting over the wall.
Today was actually my 38th birthday, everyone sang happy birthday to me whilst working at the house and we shared a piece of cake from 7-11! I think this will be one of my most memorable birthdays. Certainly not a day of indulgence but being able to share this day with my new friends doing something so positive was a pretty special gift.