On August 23rd, our last full day in Fukushima, my husband, his cousin and her youngest son and I, went to Iwaki city. A place that has earned much fame during the past 5 months, but not because of scenic views, famous buildings, amazing local dishes or other such tourist things. In fact Iwaki is not famous for such positive things of any kind, there is a lot darker reason behind the now known city name. Iwaki was one of the cities, which ended up a victim for the great tsunami that followed the biggest Japanese earthquake back in March.
I am not sure why I wanted to visit Iwaki. A place, which has witnessed more horror, more sorrow, more grief and more tears than any place deserves. For some reason I was drawn to the place. Not because I wanted to say, “I was there”, but because I wanted to see it with my own eyes. Back when the earthquake and tsunami hit, while watching the news I felt so much pain. Not just for the people who lost their lives, but also for the people who was left behind, those who had lost loved ones and those who had lost everything they owned.
So, there we were, on our way from Koriyama city to Iwaki city an around 2-hour drive. On the way, the regular highway signs announced the upcoming cities and the connected exists, I couldn’t help but looking even closer at the sign announcing Soma city – the city of the nuclear plant. I looked to the side and I could spot blocked roads, telling people not to enter what has now become a ghost town.
We reached Iwaki city and first we went to the nearest harbour. Already there the sign was evident. Trees and fences were bended, houses and buildings were missing and others were in ruin. It felt unreal. We drove along the seaside and saw more devastation.
Iwaki had cleaned up all the garbage the tsunami left, like, wood, personal items, cars and even ships. That garbage was still located on big lots, located in various places. Seeing that such things, just a few months back, was lingering in the streets of the city also had an impact.
There were a lot of places that were recognizable from the news. Also the cousin stopped a lot of places and said in a quiet voice, “I saw this place in the newspaper”. Also she seemed to be affected by everything.
Outside the store was a figure what had “let’s do our best, Iwaki” written on it. I had seen so many “Let’s do our best, Japan/Tohoku/Fukushima” signs, but that one was memorable.
I think everyone in the car was affected by what we saw. Even the cousin’s young son kept saying “ひどいね” (It’s terrible.) It truly was.
That evening, the cousin showed me Iwaki on a map, telling me that it was only located 25 km from the nuclear plant (20 km being the safe zone), which I didn’t know. I started asking more about their personal experiences and I listened intensely. How they experienced the shaking, the sound of dozens of helicopters flying towards the nuclear plant above their house, how they tried to seal the house from outside air, the empty supermarkets and the long queues of people hoping to get a little gas for their car.
There was so much I wanted to know and the family had so much to tell.