Minami San Riku Cho is a village adjacent to Kesen-numa. Both are in Miyagi Prefecture, but far north of Sendai. Like every other place along the coast, Minami San Riku Cho, has many stories about its uneasy relationship with the tsunami of 03/11. Of course, the port was totally damaged, houses were smashed to oblivion, and thousands of people were displaced or drowned. Yet, despite the overwhelming devastation and ongoing challenges of rebuilding, there are some very beautiful touches of hope and of humanity. Several of them lie in the courage that can come from honoring heroes. Others are found in deep respect for the people working against all odds to urge life forward.
The first is the very touching story of several high school students. Their school was high on a hill, so they were safe. But these youngsters knew that the residents of a nursing home lower down were not. A normal tsunami had limits that everyone knew. And the nursing home was well above them. But this time things were very different. Everyone was concerned about the seniors, who were too feeble to escape on their own. A small group of very caring students did not want to see those folks, who were probably relatives, perish. So, they decided to rescue them.
Their teacher was in an agonizing dilemma. He knew that the old folks would die if they were left, but also that his students would drown if they went to save them. Despite his trying to explain the inevitable to the kids, his young and idealistic students marched out with determination.
When the tsunami hit, they crouched between beds, struggling to survive. Most were drowned, but a few were able to save five of the beloved, tottering residents.
For years tsunami warnings had been broadcast over the entire area from there via loud speakers. And the building itself, being four stories high, served as an evacuation center. When the 03/11 earthquake hit, a young female employee named Miki Sato immediately started urging people to get to higher ground. She and about forty other employees presumed they were safe because they had moved to the top floor of the building. Too late they realized they were trapped. But even so, Miki Sato kept broadcasting her urgent message to escape. She never stopped. 10,000 people followed her advice and were saved. However, before long the ravenous water giant covered the entire building and devoured Miki Sato and all of her colleagues, mostly young women.
The first building is a library with many paperback books. It was donated by the Kiwanis Club.
And finally there is a small center called Teraco. It is run by a truly remarkable woman named Ayumi Ogusu. She comes from Tokyo, but has been in Minami San Riku Cho since the earthquake. “When I heard the news, I absolutely had to do something to help. My kids are all grown and I’m divorced, so I was free to come here and do what I could,” she explained. “As soon as I got here, I realized that kids had no where to get together after school. So, I set up this place. It’s simple with a few tables and computers. But the kids come here to be with their friends and to study.”
I asked Ayumi Ogusu about funding. “That was really, really hard,” she said. “I’m an outsider with no connections. These small towns are very close knit. But I had a tremendous sense of urgency, so I could not give up. I finally got funding from a church. The Russian church was so generous and provided me with money and equipment. I will always be indebted to them. I still have to struggle for funds, but so far I’m still here.
“I haven’t been back to Tokyo in over three years. I’m here seven days a week. I have no choice. I know the need for this, and if I don’t do it, who will?”
Ayumi Ogusu is still there, and so are the kids. When I visited, there were four students crouched over their homework. They were chatting and seemed to be enjoying themselves. “Are you studying hard,” I asked. “Yes, we come here everyday. We really love it here. It makes school work be kinda fun, actually,” they replied with shy smiles.
As I left, I told Ayumi Ogusu that I thought she, too was an Angel’s Voice, a living one. She is not giving up in her help to this community as it struggles against all odds to find stable footing and to muster the courage to go on one day at a time. In her work, Ayumi Ogusu is saving so many youngsters. And they, in turn, will carry the future that this remarkable country has to offer the world.