An Atelier with Wood Stove
2011.07.01 update 2011.05 Toyoma,iwaki-city
Only the atelier has been saved from the tsunami. The main house, a few steps down from the atelier had been damaged a sticky mess. 600 meters from Toyoma seashore.
Yoshinori and his mother lived in the atelier which left behind a heap of rubble.
Yoshinori is a painter. He was at work for Iwaki exhibition which were to be held in May. It was an abstract oil painting. A big picture was about 76 x 44 inches. He shut himself in the atelier everyday and dedicated his time for painting.
That day he was also working at the atelier, an unusual shake occurred and he rushed out. He was worried about his mother's safety in main house. He saw that his mother, 90 years old, crouched down in the middle of garden. He went down stairs and squatted down next to her.
The old main house which is almost 100 years old was shaken and cracked. The gatepost and walls were collapsed in the huge earthquake. Yoshinori and his mother could only watch the landscape where they have lived for a long time being completely destroyed.
They went out through the gatepost scattering everywhere when the earthquake stopped. All of the stonewalls and mud walls of the warehouse had collapsed, blocking the road. All Yoshinori could think of was a way to get out. He had to get in-between the houses and the stone walls to remove the rubbles.
He heard an evacuation order from ambulance that was driving by, in view of threatening tsunami. He hurried home and grabbed just a blanket and stuffed it into his car. He also thought of bringing some water but no water came from the tap.
He heard a rumbling sound like the sea roaring at night. "Tsunami is coming!"
Yoshinori and his mother got into the car and started to drive. He passed the way he just cleaned up and kept driving until they could get to a shelter in Sioyasaki.
About 200 to 300 people were gathered at the shelter. There were only 3 or 4 stoves and they were not enough to keep out the cold. Yoshinori decided to stay in the car. Among the sufferers from tsunami caused terrible confusion in the shelter, he ran into a relative, they got into the car together and wrapped themselves up in a blanket. They shared a chocolate and a drink that she brought. It was a freezing night in March with sleet.
The Next morning, he heard the report that there was nothing left in Toyoma and Usio.
"No way!" It was hard to believe that that was true. Yoshinori left his mother at the shelter and started to walk home. He passed through the thickly wooded area behind his house, the atelier was still there. It remained intact.
But over the atelier, a tremendous sight was spreading. Rubbles were stacked, several cars crashed into the garden, roads and garden were filled up with rubbles. He made his way through the rubbles and peeped into the house. There was mud everywhere, things were scattered and piled, and the tatami was lifted by the waves and plugged up the rooms. The tsunami waves left a
black line on the wall that was about 1 meter high.
He became hopelessly lost and trudged around his house.
When he passed the nearby liquor shop in neighborhood, an old man in his 70's suddenly appeared. He had a blanket over his underwear, his foot without shoes, stained with blood. Yoshinori brought him back to the atelier, and put some clothes on him.
He caught a passerby with car and asked them to take him to a shelter.
Yoshinori kept going ahead; he found a young man who lives 4 doors up that was standing in front of his house. "My mother is missing." the young man said. "I lead my father by hand, I thought my mother was keeping up with me, instead she went home to get something. I saw the tsunami coming, and ran for safety with my father," Then the young man returned to the mass of rubble.
Yoshinori heard crying for help from a few doors up.
"My daughter in-law cannot move, her ribs are broken and I need help." Yoshinori saw the self-defense forces and called for them to rescue her.
As he was about to go back, he heard the tsunami alert and quickly left.
From on that day Yoshinori and his mother were forced to live at the evacuation site. They were given two rice balls a day. Yoshinori wrapped his mother in a blanket that was only provided to elderly people. It was very cold. News of the accident at the nuclear power plant hit them. Yoshinori knew that the plutonium thermal project at Fukushima Dai-ichi is in operation. "If it goes on, Fukushima will go the same way as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster." Yoshinori received mails one after another from friends in Tokyo and former worker at TEPCO. "Run for safety!" "You should escape!" There was no place to go with his mother, being 90 years old. All they could do was to stay at the shelter. They had been there for five days now, cold and hungry.
Yoshinori received mail from his friend who had already moved to escape for safety. "Now we are at Niigata, we receive 3 meals a day, Makunouchi bento for today. We can take a bath in the hot springs, spending the day with short sleeved shirt. You should come with your mother."
Yoshinori was moved. He discussed it with the neighborhood association, determined that 5 people should go to Niigata. They collected gasoline for 2 cars, and headed for Niigata. It was the 17th morning in March. Refueled once at Aizu, they arrived and were welcomed at the resort facility of welfare center in the afternoon. The received a hot bath, hot meals, warm rooms, for the first time in a week. Everything sank into his exhausted body and mind.
The next day they moved into a gymnasium which was prepared by Gojo city in Niigata. The facilities are new and warm there, too. Bento for 3 meals, and beds were arranged for the elderly people. Sometimes local junior high school students provided curry soup for us. There was everything what we needed like a mask, a shaving kit and underwear. People were playing a flute "Furusato" (Hometown) and public reading has moved tears to our eyes.
People specially arranged to use the spa which would be open soon and sent out free tickets for hot springs located 5 minutes by car. A health nurse visited the gymnasium and introduced a
hospital to his mother. His mother needed medicine for her chronic condition. She could receive enough medicine for a month. There was a relief in her face.
One day Yoshinori went to town to do laundry, and found a cafe´ gallery. Yoshinori and the owner had a lot in common to talk about art. A brief time with serenity. The owner treated Yoshinori to some confectionery, and visited Yoshinori's shelter and asked to go to hiking for the weekend for diversion. He went up a mountain with group of 10 people,and enjoyed barbecue and beer at lunch time.
"Those days are like a dream."
The earthquake, tsunami and fear of radioactivity have driven him off, and finally arrived at the place where he could feel at ease deeply.
Yoshinori and his mother came back to Iwaki, the kindness of the people in Gojo city will always be remembered.
The electricity and water supply have not returned to normal yet. While Yoshinori lived under his relative's roof, he prepared an atelier as a temporary house to live with his mother. During the middle of April, the electricity became on, and moved in the atelier and friends brought water until it had been restored. Yoshinori cleaned up the bathroom that was covered with mud using high pressure water hose given by his friend. Everyday volunteers visited and helped carry heaps of rubble out of his house. Their life advanced steadily ahead.
"I must use this rubble to make a fire in the stove." Yoshinori seemed to be stronger, looking at the woodstove and gave a smile of daring. "After settled in, I will give an exhibition as a token of my thanks to the gallery in Gojo city who took care of us at that time."
He stopped painting after 11th March. However, his work will be finished someday and make someone feel warm like the people who helped him.
His mother, 90 years old, rushed into the atelier with the pattering of her feet. "The house is cleaned up." "Great!" everyone was delighted.
When he went out, a heap of rubble in the garden was moved out by heavy equipment, now, became an empty lot. And then, beyond the garden over boundless rubble, a view of the blue sea that wasn't in view until now. There is a long way ahead of them. Everything has just begun.
The chickens walking around his steps went cock-a-doodle-doo.
(Translated by Yuki Sakioka)