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Rikuzentakata: How to get there and help

by Louise George Kittaka

Special To The Japan Times

A reader from overseas, KM, contacted Lifelines after reading a recent article about Rikuzentakata. The city, located in Iwate Prefecture, gained international attention after it was nearly wiped out by the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Amya Miller, global public relations director for the city, wrote about how they are faring 2½ years after the disaster (www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/10/30/voices/a-message-from-tsunami-hit-rikuzentakata-make-the-trip/)

KM wants to know how to get to Rikuzentakata. Although the local station and transport infrastructure was decimated by the tsunami, a bus line has now taken its place. Assuming he is flying into Tokyo, there are a couple of options available.

The first option is to take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station up to Ichinoseki Station in Iwate Prefecture (about 2½ hours). From there, connect to the local Ofunato Line and take the train to Kesennuma (a town in Miyagi Prefecture that was also hit hard by the tsunami) and then take a JR bus to Rikuzentakata. It takes about two hours from Ichinoseki.

Another bus, run by Miyagi Kotsu, runs directly from Ichinoseki Station to Rikuzentakata and also takes about two hours. It’s also important to note that starting from Dec. 22 this year, reservations will be required for this bus. (Call Miyagi Kotsu at 022-261-5333; or visit www.j-bus.co.jp, the site is in Japanese only.) The current cost from Ichinoseki to Rikuzentakata is ¥1,600 and the bus stops at City Hall and at the Naruishi Danchi. Alternatively, you can take an overnight bus from Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo that stops in Rikuzentakata (www.japan-iwate.info/access/haneda_bus05.html)

Miller would like people to come and see Rikuzentakata with their own eyes. She is the point of contact for international visitors — from government organizations and schools, to private groups and individuals.

“If the city hadn’t faced this disaster, we wouldn’t have needed someone in my position,” she says. “But we are on the public’s radar now.”

KM and anyone else interested in coming to the area are welcome to contact her at: amya@city.rikuzentakata.iwate.jp. She can help with practical considerations such as transport and accommodation.

In the months following the tsunami, a steady stream of volunteers has visited Rikuzentakata to aid in its recovery. As the city moves forward, the emphasis has moved from volunteer work to paid work to sustain the local economy. However, there are still opportunities for those willing to donate their time and effort, including the clearing of debris. Miller says there are still more than 200 people unaccounted for in the area and they are making ongoing efforts, including DNA testing, to try and find even a scrap of tangible evidence that will help bereaved families attain closure.

The main volunteer organization in Rikuzentakata is P@ct. In addition to clearing rubble, volunteers sometimes work alongside the local farmers (depending on the season and need). A spokesperson for P@ct says that volunteers should be prepared to work outside and bring appropriate clothing and footwear. P@ct is primarily run in Japanese, and so while overseas visitors should expect little English, the group still welcomes anyone who comes to pitch in. More information can be found at P@ct’s website (Japanese only) at www.pact-rt311.org. Miller can also assist in connecting international visitors with the group.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK Nodo Jiman show, among other things. Send your questions and comments to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.