While Tsukuba`s Tornado Stricken Hojo is the Focus of Media and Volunteer Attention, Other Badly Affected Areas Suffer and Clean Up Out of the Spotlight
By Avi Landau
For five days now the Japanese press has been saturating every media in the country with images and stories of a tornado-torn Tsukuba City. Nearly all of the photos, video footage and interview material have been coming from the old town of Hojo, near the foot of Mt. Tsukuba ( where the I live). For the first few days after the twister struck on May 6th, leaving a path of destruction in its wake, the media presence in Hojo was ridiculously strong- seemingly outnumbering on the street those seriously affected by the disaster. The number of volunteers rushing to the town with food, offers of assistance (including massage services for the affected) has continued to grow. When I came back to town this evening I went to pick up our relief dinners ( which tonight came from the kitchen of Tsukuba`s classiest hotel- The Okura) and was heartilly greeted by dozens of blue-jacketed volunteers ( whose ranks have been growing by the day).
All of us here in Tsukuba are very gratefull for the support shown by these volunteers, and many of those who witnessed the deadly cyclone either from up close or afar, were probably also very happy to have their stories printed in the papers or to have been given the chance to tell them directly to the TV audience. Though badly battered and mourning the loss of a Junior High School aged boy, Hojo has been basking in the limelight for almost a week- something which has definitely lifted spirits.
The only problem with all this is that Hojo was NOT the only area affected by this tornado. Forming apparently in Tsukuba`s Yoshinuma (吉沼), a neighborhood of grand old houses which was once part of the Date Domain (of Sendai), the storm started doing its damage there- weaving its way for 15 kilometers at a speed of about 70 kilometers per hour. Before passing through Hojo and then petering out, the twister had passed through the village of O-suna (大砂), the Hokubu Kogyo Danchi Industrial Park, and the village of Mimori (水守). In each of these places the damage caused was considerable.
Today I tried to trace the entire course of the tornado on the ground. This was not a difficult task at all since the trail was clearly marked by fallen trees, twisted fences, gutted houses, debris littered rice fields- and the blue sheets which were quickly put over damaged roof-tops by home-owners trying to prevent rain damage.
Throughout the 15 km course there is serious damage to be found to homes, fields, and large company buildings. It was my impression that the worst situation was in the little hamlet of O-suna (大砂) where as in Hojo, clusters of homes ( and pear orchards in the case of O-suna) were violently savaged. The difference between Hojo and O-suna ( and the other affected areas), however, is that outside of Hojo there were no volunteers and no press presence- just small groups of relatives stoically clearing away debris with shell-shocked home-owners gazing on in stupors.
In other words, the mood in the other affected areas is completely different from that in Hojo, which seemed to be energized or rejuvinated- spurred into action by the tragic events. In O-suna and Yoshinuma there is more of a sense of despondancy, shock, and (it seems to me) lonliness. This has probably come to be as a result of being virtually ignored by the rest of Japan in their time of need.
I call for Tsukuba City and the various groups running the volunteer effort to send people into these IGNORED, out-of-the-spotlight disaster zones and at least show some support ( though actual help might be refused- for the same reason such a thing happens in Hojo). It seems to me that the people in these areas really need to know that someone cares.
Why did this situation come about? Well, first of all, the one tragic though dramatic death that took place ( under very photogenic circumstances) occurred in Hojo, as did a great concentration of similarly photogenic damage. This drew the press. The reporters also found the necessary facilities and parking areas from which to operate in Hojo which is an actual town as oppossed the other affected areas which are country hamlets with very narrow streets.
I think that the relief effort has been very impressive so far in Hojo town ( including, most surprisingly, the work of the Tokyo Electric Power Company). I am just saying that those who have been affected by the storm and do not live in the center-stage and spotlight that Hojo has become should be getting the same level of care and support.