Volunteer groups continue to assist the northeastern coastal communities nearly five years after the area was devastated by the tsunami triggered by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.
But one group stands out.
Called Support the Underground, it includes a number of motorcyclists, who describe themselves as former “delinquents” who used to be bosozoku (motorbike gangsters) or drug addicts.
It is a group much appreciated by local residents, however, for its power to draw volunteers from across Japan and its enduring capacity to offer aid.
Support the Underground was set up by Tomohiro Narita, 49, the owner of a Tokyo motorcycle shop who hails from Sendai, one of the areas heavily damaged by the disasters.
Immediately after hearing of the damage in his hometown, Narita reached out to his friends.
“I thought there should be something (we), the delinquents, can do,” Narita said.
Soon, fellow bikers started arriving in Tohoku from across the country with large amounts of food, clothes and other necessities. Some came in heavy-duty trucks or tankers loaded with gasoline.
Varying in age and occupation, the tough-looking volunteers prepared meals outdoors and helped removed debris.
Even though the initial stage of the disaster assistance ended long ago, members of Support the Underground still gather on the last Sunday of each month, mainly in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, to search for the remains of the missing and their personal effects. In winter, they remove snow from temporary housing where people who lost their homes in the tsunami continue to live.
More than 2,000 people have so far taken part as members of Support the Underground, whose name reflects the group’s aim of offering assistance in fields that the government or other volunteer groups tend to ignore.
Takahiro Chiba, an executive of an organization helping to rebuild Kesennuma, which has accepted the “biker volunteers,” expressed his gratitude.
“It is rare that a group as large as this keeps coming on a regular basis,” he said.
Meanwhile, Narita said he is determined to keep coming back “until we are told ‘no more.’ “