Sendai district raises handkerchiefs of hope

Kyodo

Sendai residents have begun stringing together yellow handkerchiefs in a coastal area hit by the March 2011 tsunami in a symbolic expression of their hope to rebuild their hometown.

Each of the handkerchiefs, placed at sites where tsunami debris has been cleared, bears printed messages or drawings transferred from those sent originally to the city’s Arahama district from well-wishers across the country and overseas.

“I’m praying for Arahama’s recovery,” says a message on one handkerchief, while another reads: “Let’s walk hand in hand.”

Arahama residents started the movement late last year after only a yellow flag out of five with different colors hoisted at a local temple survived last year’s quake and tsunami that devastated a large swath of the Tohoku region.

Yoshio Sato, a 77-year-old fisherman who has placed yellow handkerchiefs at the site where his home had stood before the disasters, hopes to see a house for him and his family rebuilt at the same location.

“We can’t fish if we don’t live near the sea,” Sato said. “I’m raising these handkerchiefs in hopes that we can continue to live here and hang tough.”

The Sendai Municipal Government has prohibited residents in Arahama and other areas facing the risk of more than 2 meters of tsunami-induced inundation from building new homes or extending their houses.

The city is encouraging them to move out instead, but many residents are unwilling to leave.

Early this year, a Nagoya-based nonprofit organization joined the handkerchief movement, which typically features a string of handkerchiefs hung on two ropes pegged to the ground on one end and the top of a 4-meter pole on the other. As of late March, the handkerchiefs were set up at 21 locations.