Join us for the first episode of 2024 as we recap the massive New Year’s Day earthquake and its impact on the people of Ishikawa Prefecture.
On this episode:
Jordan Allen: Articles
- “Noto is kind, right down to its soil”: A community’s long road to recovery (Alex K.T. Martin, The Japan Times)
- How Japan’s violent New Year’s quake felt in Toyama (Jordan Allen, The Japan Times)
- In Ishikawa, shelter for people but not four-legged friends (Karin Kaneko, The Japan Times)
- Nationwide donation effort for earthquake-hit Ishikawa gains steam (Karin Kaneko, The Japan Times)
- Noto quake: “In times of crisis, all we have is each other” (Kathleen Benoza, The Japan Times)
- Photo essay; Inside the Ishikawa earthquake disaster zone (Daniel Traylor, The Japan Times)
- Noto community’s long road to recovery from the New Year’s quake (Dave Cortez, YouTube)
- “Our minds are blank”: How ‘earthquake resilient’ Japan fails its ageing rural communities (Justin McCurry, The Guardian)
Get in touch: Send us feedback at [email protected]. Support the show by rating, reviewing and sharing the episode with a friend if you’ve enjoyed it. For a transcript of the show, visit japantimes.co.jp, and don’t forget to follow us on X!
Transcript note: Deep Dive is made to be listened to, and we recommend this transcript be used as an accompaniment to the episode. This transcript has been generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription, and may contain errors. Please check its accuracy against the episode.
Shaun McKenna 00:04
Hello Jordan, Happy New Year!
Jordan Allen 00:06
And the same to you, Shaun, how are you doing? You were back in Canada, right, for the holidays?
Shaun McKenna 00:10
Yeah, yeah, it was a sorely needed vacation. It was actually my first Christmas or New Year's back home in many, many years. And it was really relaxing, thanks for asking. Now, before I ask you about your break, I'll just introduce you to our listeners. You are Jordan Allen and editor with The Japan Times, and we've worked together for about five years now.
Jordan Allen 00:34
Yeah, yep, that's all true.
Shaun McKenna 00:35
All right. For New Year’s, you were up in Toyama Prefecture, which was hit by that massive magnitude 7.6 earthquake at 4:10 p.m. on Jan. 1.
Jordan Allen 00:46
Yes, that's right. For New Year's Day, I was in the eastern half of Toyama. You look at the map, and it's towards the Niigata side of the prefecture. I went with my partner, we were sort of hoping for, you know, a few days of nice, quiet time, watch a bit of “Kohaku Uta Gassen,” that kind of thing, you know, typical New year's fare. We got it up until the earthquake came on New Year's Day. I mean, New Year's Day itself, it was really, really beautiful sunshine, we went to the next town over, we went to see a family friend to go and have lunch, and kind of made the most of it and decided to walk back, which it was about a 90-minute walk all along the coastal road. And, you know, you can stop at points there and look out and you're looking at the Noto Peninsula, you know, looking right across Toyama Bay, and you can see it kind of there in the distance. So we kind of got back into the house about, it probably would have been about 3:45 p.m., and kind of sat down on the sofa to, you know, chill out after that walk. And then the first earthquake came, you know, the sort of precursor to the big one. You know, you've you've lived in Japan long enough as well, you know, what the different kind of earthquake feelings are like this, this first one, it was, to me, it was just kind of a one big bang, you like a big jolt. And it was enough to kind of, you know, you, you look at each other and think that was something but it wasn't kind of a long shaking kind of thing. And so after that, my partner kind of went off into another room in the house to go and do something or other and I was just kind of sat on the sofa chilling out, and it came, it was kind of no big build up to it or anything, it was just your sat there and then the next second, suddenly, everything around you is just shaking and swaying and swirling and it's terrifying. I could hear things behind me in other rooms smashing, and that was kind of shouting for my partner, you know, just for us to get out, get out the house, which, you know, looking into it later on, that is not the advice, you know, when when the earthquakes going on, you don't run outside, you get under something solid, and you wait it out, you know, and then you make your way outside once it stops. But I think it was just, you know, fear takes over. And I just all I wanted to do was just bolt out of the house and the phone alarm is going off, you know, so you've got this, again, for anybody who's who's not lived in Japan that that in itself is, to me, it's terrifying. It's this whooping sound that just comes out of your phone and it's shouting to you, you know, “Earthquake! Earthquake!,” which is accompanied by the text warning on the screen. And then the television’s kind of given its warning as well. And then out in the fields in this part of Toyama, there are kind of speakers, you know on poles in the fields, and they kind of carry the local system.
Shaun McKenna 03:26
It's very common in Japan to have these kinds of like loudspeaker systems in the streets, right? And they kind of give announcements, sometimes they do chimes to tell kids when to go home, when it's kind of late, and they should be at home instead of outside playing.
Jordan Allen 03:40
That's right. And I mean, this one usually gives a noon announcement chime, but this this was hard to describe what it was saying because it was so tinny, you know, you can't even really tell but something's going on. And it's kind of you know, when it stopped shaking, I found which room my partner had gone to, located her, and we kind of, we grabbed our coats and quickly went to do a walk around of the house to make sure that nothing, you know, nothing was damaged. Because, you know, it felt big, you didn't know what had happened. And as we're walking around the house, then we got the first of the aftershocks, which was big enough, you know, to feel the ground swaying. And we could see neighbors in one of the houses nearby, you know, kind of bolting for their cars and making a run for it. So it was pretty frightening. And then to get back inside and see that the television is kind of flashing the tsunami warning to picture it, there's a little map of Japan on the screen and all the way up the Sea of Japan coast is flashing different colors depending on the severity of the warning. And for us it was it was flashing red, which was kind of the second-highest level. At that point you make a decision as to what you're going to do.
Shaun McKenna 04:42
Did you evacuate because of the tsunami?
Jordan Allen 04:45
No. It was in my mind, and my partner kind of reasoned and we looked at the television and it was actually 10-15 minutes after the quake. I think by that time the first tsunami had already landed and it was lower than was predicted. Then when we kind of looked online quickly to see how high above sea level we were, we were 34 meters above sea level or something. So it was kind of “OK, well, I think we'll be alright.” And we found out later that apparently the town center was absolute gridlock of people just running for the mountains in cars, you know, which is fair play, you know, I mean, to people that have lived here through the big disasters and things. The fact that it's a tsunami warning, it must trigger something, I think, memories of having seen what everybody saw, you know, on the television 12 years ago or 13 years ago.
Shaun McKenna 05:35
Well, I'm glad you weren't hurt. I'm glad you were able to get back to Tokyo.
Jordan Allen 05:39
Yeah, thank you. And it's, it's like anything else with these things, you you reflect on it and at the time you didn't know how bad it was, you didn't know whether this tsunami warning was going to affect you or not. And you were terrified. And then when you look at it later, you kind of feel a bit ... I don't know what the word is, but you look at how people have suffered genuinely and the impacts and the damage. And, yeah, you feel you feel lucky and you feel you feel almost silly to have been worried so much yourself at the time. But yeah, fortunately we were OK.
Shaun McKenna 06:18
Welcome to Deep Dive from The Japan Times, I'm Shaun McKenna wishing all of our listeners a happy new year for 2024. This being our first show back for the year, however, it has not been smooth sailing for many people in Japan so far. I was visiting my parents in Canada when I saw news of the Noto Peninsula earthquake on television. The earthquake measured a magnitude of 7.6, so, just for comparison, the Great East Japan Earthquake that hit on March 11, 2011, measured a magnitude 9.1. And the geospatial information authority of Japan has said that the quake actually caused the ground to be uplifted by as much as four meters in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture. So it was a rough start to 2024 for Japan, many of you will also know that on Jan. 2, a Japanese Coast Guard plane that was set to bring relief supplies to the quake-stricken area collided with a large passenger plane on the runway at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. All 379 people aboard the Japan Airlines Flight were evacuated, however, five people in the Coast Guard plane died. As of Jan. 17, there had been 232 people reported dead as a result of the earthquake. You heard Jordan Allen at the top of the show and later on, we'll speak to writer Alex K.T. Martin, who traveled to the Noto Peninsula a week after the disaster. Before that, we'll hear from Japan Times reporter Karin Kaneko, who was one of the first on our team to head up to the disaster zone.
Karin Kaneko 07:51
My name is Karin Kaneko, I'm a reporter with The Japan Times. On Jan. 1, I was at home cooking when I first heard about the earthquake. It was New Year’s so there weren't too many reporters in the country. My boss put out a call. I was around and I agreed to go. The Shinkansen was stopped. So I had to fly to Komatsu and got the bus into Kanazawa, which is the capital of the Ishikawa Prefecture. I did some reporting there before getting a cab to the more affected areas. I've never been to Ishikawa Prefecture before, but I had been meaning to go because I heard all these, like, beautiful castles and culture. It's a really good spot for nature. It's unfortunate that I went for the first time during the earthquake, but I want to go again at some point in the future.
So I arrived in the city of Nanao on Jan. 3, which was in the disaster zone, but it's not the hardest hit area. It seemed as if none of the homes that I saw escaped the quake or its aftershocks without any damage. I would say maybe 20% or 30% of them were completely flattened. Landslides was just everywhere. And it was really jarring to see the cracks in the roads. Well, I say cracks, but they were much bigger than cracks. And you could even see the pipes coming out of the street.
As someone who was kind of first on the scene, it was important for me to get the stories of those people to our readers. One of the stories that I came across, actually, was that some of the victims of the earthquake weren't allowed to bring their pets into the evacuation shelters. They will just stay out in the hall with their pet on their laps. I think the pets are also quite shaken by what just happened. I did write a piece on the different organizations that are trying to help. For example, the Ishikawa government is coordinating with groups like the Red Cross and the Central Community Chest of Japan. If you want to help the people of Ishikawa at this time, the best thing to do is likely go through them. And of course, if you're living in Japan, this is a good reminder to check up on your own earthquake kit and make sure it's in order.
Shaun McKenna 10:45
My thanks to Karin for that recounting of our trip to Ishikawa Prefecture. We'll put links to the organizations that she mentioned in her piece in our podcast show notes. And we'll be back after a quick break.
We're back with my colleague, Alex K.T. Martin. He's a senior writer here at The Japan Times, friend of the pod, and this past week he wrote an article titled, “‘Noto is kind right down to its soil’: A community's long road to recovery.” Alex, I wanted to ask you about that title a little later, but first, we just heard our colleague Karin Kaneko recount her trip up north in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. You went up north a little later, didn't you?
Alex Martin 11:33
Yes, a week later, actually, with Dave.
Shaun McKenna 11:36
Oh, yeah that be Deep Dive producer, Dave Cortez. He went up with you and he was able to capture some sound and thoughts from your trip. Here's a snippet of what he recorded on your drive up.
Alex Martin 11:48
So we've arrived in Kanazawa, and we're taking a highway up towards Wajima. There are roadblocks here and there. So we'll need to sort of navigate how to get there, depending on the road situation. We're going to report on the Noto Peninsula earthquake that struck Japan’s Noto Peninsula on Jan. 1. So far over 120 people have died with many more missing.
Shaun McKenna 12:15
That was from a video Dave took that's tacked on to the end of your Longform feature on our website, Alex. The piece itself focuses a lot on the people of Noto and their resilience. So what are the people of Noto, like?
Alex Martin 12:28
Well, Shaun, this was actually the first time I visited Ishikawa Prefecture, or the North Peninsula, actually. So, we were reporting on a disaster, so you know, it's not your typical, everyday trip. So, you know, I wouldn't be the best person to describe how the people of Noto are, but you know, just by my own experience, being up there and talking to folks, they're very nice. I think a lot of the folks are involved in fishing, in the fishing industry, because obviously it's a peninsula. We many signs of oyster farms up there as we were driving up north. Also, I knew this beforehand, Wajima — that's one of the cities we visited — is very famous for its lacquerware called Wajima nuri, and that's like a nationally recognized brand. So I'm assuming a lot of folks are involved in that as well.
Shaun McKenna 13:17
OK. You often write about conditions in rural Japan, and a lot of your pieces focus on depopulation and the graying of Japanese society, specifically out in the countryside and smaller towns. So given that, I'm guessing there were a lot of elderly Japanese affected by the New Year's quake. Yeah?
Alex Martin 13:35
Yes, and I think that's a major issue when disaster strikes these rural countryside areas. One of the hardest hit cities by the earthquake was Wajima, the city I just mentioned, which faces out onto the Sea of Japan. And the ratio of people who are 65 or older in Wajima, stands at around 46%, which is much higher than the national average, which is 29.1%. So that's something quite important to keep in mind. I think.
Shaun McKenna 14:02
I’ve also seen a lot of reports on collapsed houses that were older and maybe not built in accordance with guidelines that were put in place after the Hanshin earthquake of 1995. That one was centered on Kobe and killed around 6,000 people. The Guardian’s Justin McCurry wrote about this in a piece titled, “‘Our minds are blank’: How earthquake resilient Japan fails its aging rural communities.”
Alex Martin 14:25
Right. So, I think Dave would agree, a lot of the homes we saw on the way up to the Noto Peninsula were old, traditional, wooden Japanese houses with tiled roofs, and I think these are the type of homes that were essentially crushed during the big quake. I'm not sure if they were built after the 1995 quake or not, I'm referring to the Hanshin quake. I'm assuming they're much older than that. So who knows, you know? In terms of earthquake resiliency, perhaps some have actually done some renovation. But many, I would assume, have no type of system in terms of earthquake resiliency. In terms of roads going up, this was roughly a week after the quake hit. It was quite a mess. Still lots of fissures, landslides, blocking lanes, potholes, sinkholes. And I think a minimum amount of repair work was already being done to get the cars inside. I think the idea was to have disaster personnel and relief supplies sent up before actually really going in to clean up the roads. You know what I mean? So they wanted to get something, the essentials up there before they actually start doing some heavy construction to completely repair the roads.
So going up there, there's a national highway called 249. And this essentially sort of runs around the Noto Peninsula from east to west. And to get to cities like Wajima, or Suzu, which are the hardest hit, you need to go on the 249, by Nanoa Bay, going past and Nanoa City. And that's what we did. But the problem is all the roads, inland roads, I wouldn't say all of them, but quite a lot of them are damaged to the extent that they're blocked off. So even to 249 was closed off here and there. And it was quite ... it was like going on a maze, actually, you know, you would take a right there's a roadblock like a left is a roadblock. Take another road, and someone would, you know a local resident, would sort of wave their hands and say, like, you know, “you shouldn't go there” because you know, it's going to be blocked off eventually. So that was a week after the quake. By the time this pod goes up, it's going to be about three weeks, so I'm assuming the road situation will be improved hopefully quite significantly then the time we went up there, but it was quite a mess.
Shaun McKenna 16:50
Yeah, let's hope so. Considering the damage you just mentioned, what happened to the people that actually lost their homes?
Alex Martin 16:56
Right, so many of them have evacuated to evacuation centers. These are schools, community centers, temples, shrines, anywhere with space that can accommodate people with roofs. And I think the latest toll I saw from a few days ago, around 40% of the residents of Wajima and Suzu are actually in evacuation centers. Most of the aid that's been delivered up north to the, we call it Oku Noto, which is basically inner Noto. It refers to Wajima, or Suzu or the Notocho town — all these municipalities in the Noto Peninsula. So the Ades being delivered to evacuation centers. There are also people who decide to sort of continue living in their homes, despite there being no electricity or water. What they would do is they would perhaps visit the nearest evacuation center to collect some water and some food supplies and take it back to their own place. Wait for trucks to bring them kerosene for the stove feeders. So it's a case by case basis. However, there are communities that are completely isolated, meaning there's no direct sort of ground route to get to them. I think this is quite old, but as of Jan. 10, there were 3,124 people were isolated up in the Noto Peninsula from I think it was about 22 different municipalities. So what they would do, obviously, they would live on their supplies. But I think the SDF has been sort of making inroads into these communities to deliver goods directly by hand perhaps, or through other means. And I think the number of isolated communities have drastically gone down. By the time this podcast is out the number I mentioned might be much fewer. Shaun McKenna 18:44
So the number of people who have been isolated by this quake is likely to have gone down by the time the podcast airs. Yes.
Alex Martin 18:50
Yes, I'm hopeful. So this lack of access to these villages isn't a problem that's lost on many people who are involved in making decisions. We spoke to Yukiyoshi Yamano, who is a strategic adviser to the tech company SoftBank —which is helping with regard to aid efforts — and he was also the former mayor of Kanazawa. So he knows what the cities are capable of.
Shaun McKenna 19:16
What did he have to say?
Alex Martin 19:18
Well he was saying that relying on land routes to the more isolated communities is fine during everyday situations, nondisaster situations, but at times like these, he said we need to have more sea and air routes to get help to people.
Shaun McKenna 19:32
Has anyone ever suggested that more of these small, like difficult to access towns may just need to be abandoned permanently?
Alex Martin 19:39
Yeah, I mean, actually, that's another big debate that's going on on X or Twitter right now. I know there's many pundits giving their own take on the situation and whether or not this calls for elderly residents in the countryside to move to bigger cities. I think the former governor of Niigata, Mr. Ryuichi Yoneyama, suggested that as well on Twitter, and that got a lot of response. It's actually a debate that's been ongoing for quite a long time. I think the central government has been pushing the idea, to a certain extent, as well as regional municipalities, from a disaster prevention standpoint. It's not just earthquakes, right? There's landslides, massive rainfall, storms, and what happens in the situation is obviously these rural villages and hamlets in the countryside, they get isolated. And a lot of times the average age of residents in these areas are much higher than people you'll find in the city. Like in Wajima, right? It's 46% over 65. So yeah, I think the Noto Peninsula earthquake could be a trigger for another huge debate on this exact topic.
(Alex audio clip)
The city itself in Wajima is a complete mess. I think 90% of the homes there got damaged, many are completely crushed, pancaked. You know, when people lose everything, lose any semblance of normality, I think it takes a while for that to sink in. You know, how to regain a sense of normalcy back into their lives? It's gonna take a while. So surreal, I think at this point for many to actually comprehend their own situation and how they're gonna go move forward from here. So hopefully, that kind of sentiment or sense of moving ahead will return to the folks up there soon. But then again, it's early January, it's very cold up here, it's going to be at least another few months before spring approaches, so it’s gonna be a very tough few months for our residents of affected areas.
Shaun McKenna 21:50
So Alex, while you were up in Noto, you encountered a lot of people. As a seasoned reporter in Japan, and I think you've done reporting in many disaster zones outside of Japan, how do you approach people to get them to tell you their story? I'm kind of curious if you take a different approach here than you would in another country.
Alex Martin 22:08
I wouldn't say I take a different approach depending on which country I am in. For example, I covered the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines back in 2013, but it's not like I go down there and I have a different persona. I think one thing I would be careful about is not to intrude too much on their personal space. Disaster victims, typically, you know, they're living out of emergency shelters, they don't have homes. Privacy is something they've lost. So you don't want to be a reporter just going up, you know, right up into their, into their faces, and like, you know, asking questions here, right and left. So I would take my time, I would sort of scout around who is where, see if whether or not they might want to talk or not. Typically, I would think, from my experience, right after a disaster, a lot of the victims are actually willing to talk, I think it's a way of clearing their mind and sort of putting things into perspective. And I think talking to people outside of the disaster zone could facilitate that to an extent. But then again, if you're talking to someone who lost many family members, the trauma might be too deep at that point for them to actually want to talk to you. So it's really a matter of instincts, I think. And I try not to sort of go up into people's faces. That's the last thing I want to do. These are people who are suffering. It's not our job to make their suffering even greater. I think it's our job to listen to them. So I try not to be overly sympathetic. I just try to be level headed, kind, courteous. And if I sense that they don't want to talk about something, I would try not to go deep into that, unless I feel that, you know, this is something that this person might actually really want to talk about. But he or she might be hesitating, if you know what I mean. It's a very delicate matter, obviously. And I think the Japanese people, you know, I mean, I think the stereotypical Japanese person that Westerners might think are these shy folks who aren't that open about talking about their own experience and stuff like that, but I don't think that's actually really the case. You know, when I was in Tohoku after 3/11. I talked to a lot of people, and they were very open about their own experience. Very kind actually. That's one thing that really amazes me, you know, these disaster victims, you know, they've lost everything, but they're so incredibly kind, you know, I mean, they wish they would offer you a cup of hot tea or something when they don't have anything else to offer. I'm like, you don't know, “I don't need that.” But you know, it's amazing. I think these disasters, it's horrible, but at the same time, it sort of creates the sense of community. And I think that's how people sort of try to move forward. So yeah, I'm not sure if I'm really answering your question, but that's a little bit about my own take, I think.
Shaun McKenna 24:58
I guess a week after the disaster there are there still rescue efforts going on, but especially by the time this podcast comes out, people will be trying to make sense of how they're going to move forward. So in your piece you spoke to Ryotaro Nakashima, who is the 35-year-old president and chief brewer at the Nakashima Sake Brewery based in Noto.
Alex Martin 25:22
Right, he’s the eighth-generation head of the brewery and it brews a particular brand of sake known as Noto Suehiro. And we met him up in Wajima. Most of his business, the homes and the buildings that he runs, were pretty much demolished, except for one section. He had building that he built after 2007 when another quake hit Noto, so that's where he's actually living now. He made a small bed, two small beds out of cardboard boxes at a futon.
Shaun McKenna 25:55
So there's like one room that's kind of earthquake proof. That's the one that lasted. Right?
Alex Martin 26:03
Right. And he’s a very kind person. He had his apron with his sake brand logo on it. It was as if, you know, he could just go right back to work and start making sake. But then you look behind him and it's just basically crushed homes all over the place, like a wasteland. And yeah, so you know, he lost his business once, in 2007, when another 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit Noto and his business got crushed. It happened again, right? It's only been like 16 or 17 years since the last disaster. So he was quite at a loss in terms of what he wants to do and what he should do and what he can do. I think the idea is to, you know, get his business back up again, eventually. But then, you know, his concern was, Noto is known as a very seismically active region. Another big one could hit anytime soon. So the point is, you know, if he rebuilds his home, does he want to have just a regular home, or he probably wants some extra reinforcement in terms of earthquake resiliency and things like that, right? So a lot to think about. He's told me the three tones of rice lying in the rubble still, that he wants to salvage. This was to make sake. So many things on his mind, and I think it's going to take some time for him to sort of, I think, grasp the scale of things and start looking for a path to revive his business.
Shaun McKenna 27:34
Do you think you'll get back in touch with him at some point to see, you know, what he finally decided to do?
Alex Martin 27:39
Of course, that's what we do. When a disaster strikes you go up there, we talk to people and then maybe after six months or a year or three years or five years and you go back and see how these people are coping with their lives. I'm really looking forward to drinking his Noto Suehiro brand of sake at some point. He has a very nice homepage, which is stopped, right? It hasn't been updated, because he doesn't have, you know, proper internet connection yet. So I'm hoping that one day, you know, I can report on the revival of his business. And the other folks too, that, you know, we talked to during this trip and see how they're coping and how, and hopefully they've recovered.
Shaun McKenna 28:20
So Nakashima was being assisted by a guy named Seiji Yoshimura, who is 58, and Mr. Yoshimura had dug the brewery sign out of the rubble, is that right?
Alex Martin 28:29
Yeah, Seiji Yoshimura, or Yoshimura-san, he heads a group called the Humanshield Kobe, which is a NGO that is dedicated to reconstruction assistance in Japan and overseas. And he actually lives in Shinanomachi, which is a town in Nagano Prefecture in northern Nagano. And he just took off to Ishikawa right after the quake started, which would be the main quake on the aftershocks. And we basically followed him around when we arrived. He brought all these heavy machinery from Nagano with him. He went through Toyama. The roads were really, really messed up. So it took him quite a while and I think he finally arrived in Wajima on Jan. 3. He makes it a point to arrive before the crucial 72-hour period runs out. This is the time where disaster victims underneath collapsed homes and buildings could potentially survive. After the window shuts, the rate of survival drops significantly. So he wanted to get up there before that time was up, and he got there. So far I think he helped pull out three bodies from the rubble, or an old lady and an old man and another old lady, I think. And when we visited he was using an excavator. It was a mangled garage shuttered. The house itself was sort of halfway demolished, and there was a car inside the other garage. The sake brewer’s friend's car actually. Yoshimura-san and his crew of volunteers from all over Japan, actually, they were using this heavy machinery to sort of pull out the mangled garage shutter, so they can access it directly. You can see this on the video, actually, that Dave took. And they successfully got the car out. And then he took us on a tour of the streets and alleys that he and his crew helped clear out. And it's a complete disaster zone. It's like, like after a war or something, especially in the morning market, which suffered heavy fires. It's like a scene from I don't know, it's very apocalyptic.
Shaun McKenna 30:40
So does Mr. Yoshimura, like, does he just kind of travel around the city ad then if he sees a problem, he solves it? Or do people summon him? Like how does he work?
Alex Martin 30:51
So he's been doing this for decades now, right? I think the trigger was the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake where he went to volunteer.
Seiji Yoshimura 30:59
I experienced the Hanshin Awaji Earthquake, 1995 Jan. 17. I arriving in Kobe, (it was) four days already, but it's too late. So I'm very regrets about ... so, everything is gone. Then this time, I very feel it's like Kobe again. I cannot forget the smell of the fire areas and crying, the voices, everything.
Alex Martin 31:30
So ever since then, he needs to be the first responder, right? So he goes up to the disaster zone. What he does is typically he would talk to local municipal officials, SDF personnel, police, the fire department and gather information and figure out you know, which areas need hardcore heavy machinery to go in to clear out So it's a coordinated effort and he doesn't he just doesn't go there like, you know, randomly finds a house and like, OK, let's go. He digs for information, he collaborates with different both official and unofficial entities, and tries to sort of figure out, you know, which areas or which people need the most help.
Shaun McKenna 32:08
Speaking of the community kind of coming together, one other person I want to single out from your story was Midori Kawabata tell us a little about her.
Alex Martin 32:18
Right, so we bumped into her in front of, I think that was Sanno Elementary School. It was an evacuation center in the city of Nanao. And I mentioned I come from The Japan Times and something rang a bell. And apparently she already met one of our reporters who went up there, I think it's Karin, you might want to double check with her. So she knew The Japan Times and then suddenly, she said, like, “OK, just follow me.” You know, “I'm gonna take you to this huge evacuation center called the Sunlife Plaza.” So we followed her in her car and she took us there, which initially had 800 people evacuated there, I think now it's down to 300 or so. So she was this extremely genki middle-aged lady, very talkative, and her family owns a local fish shop. She also runs an online sashimi or fish delivery service. She has been all over the place, all over Nanao to evacuation centers, schools city halls, to deliver you know, adult diapers, perhaps for the elderly evacuees, vegetables, fish, because she comes from the fish shop. And she was really, really kind. And you know, going back to that sense of community I mentioned before, Kawabata-san would be the, you know, a good example. Um, you know, she's suffered as well, but she's doing his best to sort of go around and help people out. And, you know, this is what happens during disasters in Japan — and elsewhere, too, I think people sort of just stand up and do what they can for their own community and their neighbors and their friends and their family.
Shaun McKenna 33:41
And it's her who gives you the quote that ends up becoming the headline for your story, yeah?
Alex Martin 33:45
Right, so she said there's this old saying that's been handed down in the region, “Noto wa yasashi ya, tsuchi made mo,” and we translated that in English as “Noto is kind, right down to its soil.”
Shaun McKenna 33:56
I actually like the English translation, because “soil” sounds like “soul” so you kind of get that image in your head when you hear it.
Alex Martin 34:03
Yeah, that's true. Kawabata-san was telling me this and her, you could see that her eyes were welling up when she said it. But she said that the people of Noto are kind and they help each other out and they're going to persevere.
Shaun McKenna 34:14
Well, Alex, thank you for coming on Deep Dive to share your experience with us.
Alex Martin 34:19
Shaun McKenna 34:25
My thanks to Alex, Karin and Jordan for sharing their experiences on this week's podcast. With me now is Dave Cortez, Dave, you went up to Noto with Alex, had you ever been to a disaster zone before?
Dave Cortez 34:36
No, no, I never have. To be honest with you, I didn't think it was going to be a part of my journalistic career. But you know, these things happen and you have to be ready. I was trying to make sure that I kept the fact that there were deaths in the forefront of my mind. Because you have all of these journalistic needs you need to check off: do this right do that right get this shot get this audio. And it can be easy, I think, to forget that it is a disaster zone. That was something I tried to make sure I was grounded in. Shaun McKenna 35:06
What image would you say you would remember most from being up there, like what struck you as being something you didn't expect, but you saw it while you were there?
Dave Cortez 35:15
I’m gonna give you two. I think seeing the side of a mountain come off on television is one kind of surreal image. But when you actually look at the aftermath, and you see it in front of you on the street, you kind of realize the destructive force of nature, in a different way than a helicopter camera might be able to catch. But the second one, I think lots of people see images of collapsed houses on television. And when you go see one in real life, that's also another step up, like, similar to the landslides. But then there's a third layer when you see two feet of snow on top of it. That made me think, OK, so these people had their New Year’s completely ruined. There's death, like I said, and then Mother Nature brings a massive snowstorm. And it kind of just made me even more kind of sick about like, who might be trapped in their homes, who might be now having to deal with another — not a disaster, but another natural situation like freezing. Because rescue personnel haven't gotten to you. So I think that kind of shook me more than anything.
Shaun McKenna 36:21
Right? Well, another team went up to the area too, and we'll put links to our coverage in the show notes that includes the articles and the video that you shot, Dave. And I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all The Japan Times subscribers out there, it's because of your support that we are able to get teams into disaster zones and hopefully provide reporting that you all appreciate. The recovery in Noto and the broader area will likely take a few years, so we look forward to providing you updates on how that progresses. As of this week, around 250 junior high school students from the hard hit city of Wajima had to leave their families to continue their studies in the southern Ishikawa city of Hakusan. Many schools in Noto became evacuation centers after the quake and some were damaged, so the students will stay at prefectural lodging facilities so that they can prepare for end-of-year exams. And authorities are introducing measures to keep visiting foreign technical trainees to continue working in Japan, even if the companies they were assigned to go out of business due to the recent disaster. The Immigration Services Agency said foreign trainees in 47 municipalities — in Niigata Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures — will be able to work at places not designated under their programs. Deep Dive from The Japan Times is produced by Dave Cortez. Our outgoing music is by Oscar Boyd, and our theme music is by the Japanese musician LLLL. I’m Shaun McKenna, podtsukaresama.