Fri, 23rd Sep. So the serious part of my journey began. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. It felt like autumn. Before we left Morioka, we met with Kanako-sensei one more time. She is now Deputy Head of a Special Needs school in Kuji on the far north coast of Iwate. Compared with the south coast Kuji got off lightly from the tsunami but one town to the south, Rikuzen Noda, was completely destroyed. Kanako explained how she was called out late at night on the 11th March to search for a sole missing student. She visited the evacuation centres in pitch darkness explaining to each that if the student should appear she would be unable to communicate effectively and leaving a contact number. It was not until light on the following day that the extent of the destruction and tragedy became visible. A sight she will never forget. Unfortunately, the student’s body was found a few days later.
Although it is approximately 100 miles due east from Morioka to the coast at Miyako, there is almost nothing but mountains, fields, rivers and an endless, winding road punctuated only by the odd roadworks to repair regularly occurring landslides.
Our first encounter with the legacy of the tsunami was not until we were right on the sea wall in Miyako, and even then the destruction was not as great as we had imagined (see Iwate Bank above). We got a more shocking view as we headed out north-east onto the coast road towards Jodogahama and got an aerial view of the Minato-machi area of Miyako Bay.
Jodogama ‘Pure Land’ Beach
The name Jodogahama was given by the priest Reikyo, who, overcome with the location’s stunning beauty uttered, “it is just as the Buddha’s Pure Land paradise.” Certainly, it was worth every superlative adjective given to it before the tsunami, and it was also a great beach for swimming in the shallow, sheltered waters of the bay. Particularly, memorable was the Jodogahama Jazz Festival which took place in August shortly after our arrival in Iwate where a stage was set up in the shallows to a back-drop of the white, liperite rocks illuminated by spot lights in a sea of changing colours.
Six months after the tsunami Jodogahama was clean again apart from some debris washed up overnight. However, much of the beach was missing, giving the impression (or reality) of a much larger and deeper expanse of water out to the rocks. The coastal footpath around to the next bay was submerged and inaccessible. Parts of the rocks submerged by the tsunami are clearly visible in that the pine trees on these outcrops are dry and dying from exposure to salt water.
The railings along the main viewing part of the ‘promenade’ were missing in places and the impressive two-storey Beach House was nothing but a boarded up shell. I heard that the owner had worked tirelessly to remove all the debris from the beach after the tsunami in order to re-open to the public in time for the summer season. However, the bathing permit was not granted so the beach officially remains shut. I left a pile of prayer stones on the beach.