March 11th, 2:46pm, the earth shook. I thought it would be over in no time. But, the quake grew crescendo - like and continued for an exceptional amount of time. There is no doubt that people were thinking they were going to die right there. In my home with everything falling into disarray around me, I could only think of my three absent daughters. Oh hell! Where are they? At school? On the way home? I tried to leave but I couldn't. I couldn't even stand up. The next moment there was a deafening roar. It seemed there had been an enormous landslide at the nearby Shishiochizaka hill.
Something unbelievable was happening. From my window the taller buildings in Sendai seemed to be warping like a dissolving boiled sweet. It was then I remembered that a high number of victims in the Miyagi Oki Earthquake (1978) were due to falling masonry from walls running alongside the pathways, and with that thought I dashed, almost rolling, out of our home and ran towards my children's elementary school.
The road was filled with cars going nowhere, and any gaps on the road were filled with so many people trying to make their way home that there was barely room to move. The number of people was no different to the Tanabata Festival. What was different was the bloodshot eyes. It was akin to something only seen in a movie. I pushed myself forward through the wave of people. Suddenly I hear 'papa!' from the other side of the road. It was my youngest daughter, Hana. She was wearing her emergency head cover so I couldn't see her face so well. Going against the crowd to reach her, Hana grabbed hold of me and cried. 'It was so scary and I didn't cry at school. But when I found you Papa, I got so sad...’ As I was about to ask 'Where’s Solar? ‘ my second daughter Solar (who has a welfare helper due to having Down's syndrome) was clutching at my stomach, telling me 'Scary, scary. Solar cried'. I was just thinking how glad I was that these two were safe when my thoughts turned to my eldest daughter Umi, at junior high school. ‘Right! Let's go and find Umi!' Stepping from Otamayashita into the considerably wider Higashi Nibanchou Avenue, the number of people and stationary cars increased many times over - it was incredible. Holding my two daughters by the hand we entered the school grounds where all the pupils had been evacuated. Straight away, Umi saw us and approached somewhat bashfully. She was safe. 'All present and correct!' and for the first time my tensed up body started to relax. And then, the snow fell. The sky filled up and a blizzard started.
On returning back home, We could hear a rather lively dialogue coming from the hill where the landslide had occurred. It was between a policeman and a fireman. The policeman was using a megaphone so it was quite audible. 'It's dangerous so move away!' said the elder policeman. 'There's three buried under here, I tell ya!' said the young fireman. 'Do you wanna die as well?' replied the policeman. Just like a battlefield. Our apartment block was undamaged but all our lifelines were cut. The computer had fallen down and was now unusable, the network was down so my mobile phone was merely a simple lump-there was nothing to be done. On top of all that, there were more and more unsettling tremors. I decided to take my frightened children to an evacuation centre. We only took what we were wearing. The sun had already set, but people were moving here and there with their backpacks on. The convenience stores were packed. My children's elementary school had become an evacuation centre and it was so crowded with over 1000 people unable to get home that there was barely room to stand. We walked around looking for a place to stay. A light was on in the child centre so we spent the night in the gymnasium there, one blanket wrapped around the four of us. Just before falling asleep, Umi suddenly said 'Now we are all together, it's OK to die!'
No TV, no radio, no newspapers. In other words, there was no way to get information. We didn't have a clue about what was happening or what had happened to our mothers, brothers or friends. For now, my children are here, we're alive and that'll do, but what do we do next? The next morning, we went by car (which still had some gasoline) to my hometown of Shiogama. As always we drove along the Sanriku highway. We were bemused and dumbfounded by the strange quietness, and we could see the old shops that had become innumerable pieces of wood and shattered roofs, the cars that had been driven and then left when they could go no further. There was a group of people coming from the direction of Sendai seaport, and when I asked what had happened here, the reply was 'Tidal wave! It's terrible. The place is littered with bodies!' More than surprise, I couldn't understand how water could reach here, five kilometers from the sea. Normally it takes 30 minutes to get to my mother's place, but we changed our route going over the mountains and arrived there three hours later.
Happily, the family was safe but their shop where they sell sea produce was flooded, and my brother was at a complete loss. My mother was sat slumped in the entrance to her house, face white as a sheet, but when she saw her grandchildren safe and well she was over the moon. Later that evening, I couldn't settle down and I decided to visit Shichigahama, the birthplace of the Company. The scenery that I so loved had vanished. The roads, the sea- houses, the hostels, the stores, the groves of pine trees, the car parks, the houses, all that I was fond of had gone. How would you describe it? It was like after an air raid, or it as if it had been obliterated by some unfamiliar monster, it was a scene of utter destruction. But the sea sat there peacefully as if nothing had happened. I started to tremble, and I could not stop the tears from welling up. It's all gone, its all bloody gone.....
Five months have now passed since that day. Reconstruction is proceeding steadily. However, there are many areas that still remain as they are, untouched. The dead and missing number over 22,000, those out of work around 70,000. There are orphans whose homes and families were washed away. There are families who have found their relatives washed up on a beach in Tomakomai, Hokkaido. There are those still searching for the bodies of their lost ones. There are people who have lost their hometowns. There are those who have been chased away from their hometowns and cannot return despite wanting to.
The Shakespeare Company has been going for nearly 20 years now, embraced by the history and topography of Tohoku, and through our mysterious wanderings, we have been able to play in all areas of Tohoku. Aomori,Iwate,Akita,Yamagata,Miyagi,even at Nonoshima in the Bay of Sendai...and of course the incomparable Fukushima. In 1995, our first work 'Romeo and Juliet' had its first airing at British Hills in Ten'eimura, Fukushima. We will never forget the way they sent us off into the world. We should call Fukushima our Nanny, and her sadness is now deeply immeasurable.
In Sendai, there is an abundance of completely and partly destroyed buildings and house, and those who have lost family and friends are emotionally deeply hurt.
However, we must also be grateful that we are alive. Those of us who have been allowed to live on must not fall into despair. We are the ones who remember those who regretfully lost their lives, and by continuing to live, they will live on with us. And from this moment on we must join hands with one another and carefully think about the future and what needs to be done.