Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Recollections from a devastating tsunami

Published:Thursday | March 9, 2017 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma
Sensei (teacher or master) Yoichi Chiba, a monk at Zuiganji temple at Matsushima. He was one of the first responders when the tsunami struck on March 11, 2011.
Richard Halberstadt, director of Ishnomaki Community and Info Centre.

Matsushima, Japan

March 11, 2011 is clearly etched in Yuasa Tsunoda's mind: she was on a cruise boat on the seas off Matshushima Bay, eastern Japan, sharing with visitors the beauty of the islands in the bay area, when the crew were information that an earthquake had struck and a tsunami warning issued.

"My instinct was to stay calm. Passenger safety was important," Tsunoda, a tour guide, said. "We returned to the shore, and evacuated all the passengers to the third floor of the building of the port."

And the tsunami struck; a wall of water rose and inundated Matshushima Bay. But the passengers and the crew from the cruise boat were safe.

"It is the power of Jizo (Buddhist deity, who is protector of the vulnerable, especially children, travellers, and expectant mothers) and the god of Shiyogama that saved us," Tsunoda said.

The tsunami surge stopped just outside the gate of Zuiganji, one of Buddhism's holy temples in Japan; a wooden marker bears testament.

Sensei (teacher or master) Yoichi Chiba, a monk at Zuiganji, was one of the first responders.

"We had people coming into the temple, locals and tourists, and we immediately moved them to the hills behind the temple," Chiba, general affairs director at Zuiganji informed. "It was very cold and also started to snow, and the conditions were not good, so we moved the people to the temple after the tsunami had passed."




Chiba was in constant touch with the authorities and got updates from the radio broadcasts. After the waters had subsided, he went to the local government offices and arranged for a bus to evacuate the tourists.

"It was the blessings of Date Masamune (samurai warrior and ruler of Matsushima) that we were able to avert a major disaster," Chiba, attired in a black robe, with a calm composure, said, referring to the decision on where to build the historic temple.

Meanwhile, six years on, Richard Halberstadt, director of Ishnomaki Community and Info Center, cannot control his emotions as he recalls one of his closest friends who was swept away in the tsunami surge.

"I don't understand why him, as he was into the scout movement, and trained people on disaster preparedness," Halberstadt said, tears brimming in his eyes and voice choking. It is a day, he says, was out of a Biblical prophecy.

Still, on most days at least, Halberstadt, like others in this coastal fishing town, find a reason to smile as they rebuild and rehabilitate, rising above the rubble.