Voices from FUKUSHIMA Vol.3 Ms. Ikuko TAKANO

Voices from <span class=FUKUSHIMA Vol.3 Ms. Ikuko TAKANO" />

Expe­ri­ence of, and Reflec­tions by, Mrs. Ikuko Takano,
Head of the Peo­ple of Hara­machi Catholic Church
29 Sep­tem­ber 2012

Earth­quake, Nuclear Pow­er Plant Explo­sion, Evac­u­a­tion
Minami­so­ma City Hara­machi Catholic Church is locat­ed 24.5 km from the Fukushi­ma Dai­ichi Nuclear Pow­er Plant of Tokyo Elec­tric Pow­er Co. Inc., and 5.5 km from the sea. On Fri­day, March 11, 2011 at 2:46 p.m., a huge earth­quake of mag­ni­tude 9.0 struck the Paci­fic Ocean side of East Japan. The epi­cen­ter of this earth­quake was a lit­tle way out to sea from San­riku. There were evac­u­a­tion orders made for 30 km, 20 km, and 10 km. On March 14, the 3rd unit of the Fukushi­ma Nuclear Pow­er Plant explod­ed. On the same day, I heard the sound of an explo­sion com­ing from the south, which was the 2nd unit explod­ing. On the 15th, there was anoth­er explo­sion in the 2nd unit and fire in the 4th unit. Right away were orders through the com­mu­ni­ty wire­less sys­tem for every­one with­in 30 km to stay inside. We wore long sleeves, masks, and hats for pro­tec­tion, and closed the win­dows tight. The may­or of Minami­so­ma city called for evac­u­a­tion and got bus­es ready. How­ev­er, at home, we could not fig­ure out where and how to evac­u­ate. As we sought out oth­ers, we found out that, soon­er or lat­er, all the mem­bers of our church with­in 30 km of Fukushi­ma had evac­u­at­ed. Above all, it was impos­si­ble to go look at the church whilst there were orders to stay inside. We just took a look at the church on the way from work think­ing, “Ok, the church is still stand­ing. We’ll think of what to do once every­thing set­tles a lit­tle.” After con­sult­ing with the board mem­bers, I evac­u­at­ed.

Dam­age and Repair of the Church

ikuko02The dam­age to Hara­machi Church was main­ly due to the earth­quake. The church is an old church which has under­gone many small repairs on its walls, floor, and roof. It had just cel­e­brat­ed its 60th anniver­sary. Every time there was an after­shock, the cracks in the walls of every room got worse. The con­struc­tion com­pa­ny cov­ered the dam­age on the roof with sheets of blue plas­tic tarp. Bish­op Tet­suo Hira­ga came every week from North Sendai but, because the Joban train line had stopped and Road 6 was dis­con­nect­ed due to areas cov­ered in rub­ble, he could not come any­more. I did not know how or to whom I should con­sult about the future. After clean­ing the rub­ble inside, Mrs. Kazuko Hayashi, our Vice-Head, and I decid­ed, “let’s pray on Sat­ur­day” and the two of us prayed togeth­er in the church.

Mail did not come of course, so we could not know the plans or move­ments of the Sendai parish and the Domini­can order. This church was in the pas­toral area of the Domini­can order. We con­tin­u­ous­ly asked the church mem­bers in North Sendai and were able to have a parish priest come by car. Father Latour came from Sendai and Mass­es were held on April 10, and 17. Five or six peo­ple came. We talked about the future, how it would be dif­fi­cult for Catholics to gath­er for a Mass while there were orders to stay indoors and fur­ther­more, the church itself was dan­ger­ous from all the dam­age from the earth­quake. We also held a Mass at one parishoner’s home out­side the 30 km area. We could not hold an offi­cial Mass but at least we would gath­er on Sun­days for prayer. How­ev­er, both the believ­ers and I were lost with­out know­ing what would actu­al­ly hap­pen to Hara­machi Church. The roof was bro­ken and had a hole in it that it would leak when it rained. We did not have the mon­ey to repair it. For East­er, I went to a Mass held in Kita-Sendai Church. It took me an hour and a half to go to Sendai. The scenery on the way on Road 6 was hor­ri­ble; I was at a loss for words. There were more than 100 boats and ships that had been swept by the waves and were lying side­ways in the inlands. When I entered the Paci­fic Ocean side of Miyagi pre­fec­ture, the area was dev­as­tat­ed. I could not find the words to express its impact on me. There were moun­tains of rub­ble result­ing from body search­es. The recon­struc­tion of Minami­so­ma city in Fukushi­ma pre­fec­ture was behind sched­ule. The radi­a­tion leak from the nuclear pow­er plant was caus­ing all the work to fall behind.

On April 27, the Tohoku Shinkansen (bul­let train) had reopened, the Provin­cial of the Domini­can order came and we had a talk with four church mem­bers about the future of Hara­machi Church. We talked about how we can­not close this church because if we do, there will be no place for our believ­ers to wor­ship.

The gov­ern­ment had re-des­ig­nat­ed the area from an area to stay indoors to an evac­u­a­tion prepa­ra­tion area. We were then able to be out­side freely; how­ev­er, the sit­u­a­tion was not ready for ren­o­va­tion. In addi­tion, the car­pen­ters and the tilers had all evac­u­at­ed. A while lat­er, though there were still no con­struc­tion work­ers in the area, we were lucky to be the first to start the ren­o­va­tion with the emer­gen­cy aid given to Sendai parish from all over the world. Also after Bish­op Hiraga’s procla­ma­tion, “I will have a Japan­ese priest sta­tioned at the church­es in the strick­en areas”, on June 1st, Father Umet­su was sta­tioned to Hara­machi church. This made us feel secure and we were all hap­py we have some­one we could con­sult with.

On Sat­ur­day, June 11th, Bish­op Koda and four oth­ers from the CTVC office came to vis­it from Tokyo. They asked us “What do you need?” but we weren’t expect­ing to get any sup­port. We answered, “We now have few­er mem­bers of the church. If pos­si­ble, we would like to hold Mass togeth­er.”

Radioac­tive Con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of the Church • Cut­ting Down of Himalayan Cedars

To get rid of radioac­tive con­t­a­m­i­na­tion, the con­struc­tion work­ers washed the church roof and walls with water. Under­neath the park­ing lot was a tem­po­rary place to put con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed soil. Decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion work start­ed by Minami­so­ma city and end­ed in ear­ly Octo­ber. I was relieved that this end­ed ear­ly. But the lev­el of radioac­tiv­i­ty espe­cial­ly on the sur­face of the soil was high. This does not feel good, even though I do not live here all year day and night. Vol­un­teers and pil­grims could not come.

Cesium was detect­ed in the tree­tops and trunks of the Himalayan cedars on our prop­er­ty so we had to cut them down. The trees were about thir­ty to forty years old. Sayuri Kinder­garten is inside this prop­er­ty, so we have to ensure the children’s safe­ty.

Sup­port from the Out­side

The very first mate­ri­al sup­port we received was on Sat­ur­day, March 26, 2011. It was just after the phone line was recon­nect­ed. The Catholics of North Sendai brought a lot of sup­plies such as rice, water, and canned goods. There were still orders to stay inside, and because we were not expect­ing any sup­port would come to Hara­machi Church from the out­side, we were bewil­dered. At Hara­machi Church then, there were only two peo­ple. We appre­ci­at­ed the sup­port, espe­cial­ly since this was the time when food prod­ucts were not yet com­ing in.

After this, vol­un­teers from CTVC and church­es from oth­er areas vis­it­ed Hara­machi Church again and again. This was also one of our wish­es com­ing true.

On Octo­ber 9th, a memo­ri­al Mass was held joint­ly with Mat­su­ki­cho church in Fukushi­ma city. Around nine­ty peo­ple came to the small sanc­tu­ary of Hara­machi Church. Soon after that came Christ­mas. There were more peo­ple attend­ing the church then. At the end of the year, CTVC staff mem­bers Sis­ter Chi­aki Hatanaka from Tokyo, Sis­ter Kyoko Oza­wa from Kobe, and Mr. Shigeyuki Kanaya­ma came to stay, to live here and work with and for the church and its peo­ple. There were many who came for the New Year’s Mass. One year after the earth­quake, on March 11, a Memo­ri­al Mass was held at Hara­machi. Eighty-two peo­ple came, includ­ing Bish­op Koda and his assis­tants. One year has passed, but there is still so much to be done for revival.

On May 6th, Father Kar­i­u­ra from Nagoya was appoint­ed to Hara­machi Church in place of Father Umet­su. On this day, one mem­ber passed away and Father Kar­i­u­ra went to pray and admin­is­ter the sacra­ment in a storm.

ikuko03Tran­si­tion­ing from Get­ting Sup­port to Giv­ing Sup­port

We, the mem­bers of the church, thought about what we could do for revival. We joined the CTVC vol­un­teers at the tem­po­rary hous­ing meet­ing place. At first, we were fear­ful of how we would be greet­ed. We brought home­made cakes with us and grad­u­al­ly every­one start­ed to remem­ber our faces.

We start­ed to par­tic­i­pate in var­i­ous vol­un­teer activ­i­ties although there were only a few mem­bers who could come from Hara­machi Church. Col­lab­o­ra­tion with NPO Fukushi­ma Yasaibatake in Nihon­mat­su also start­ed.

Ever since then, we have been doing our best in the­se activ­i­ties. One year since the earth­quake, final­ly Hara­machi Church is see­ing hope in the future. This is all due to the con­tin­u­ous sup­port and encour­age­ment we have received. If we had not had this, we would not have had the strength to repair or revive any­thing. Through this earth­quake dis­as­ter, we got to know so many peo­ple and got tied to peo­ple all around Japan. Above all, it is encour­ag­ing to have a lot of peo­ple with us dur­ing the Mass, with read­ings and organ music. We received respons­es such as, “I will serve with plea­sure”. “With plea­sure…” What a pleas­ant sound! The­se behav­iors affect­ed a lot of peo­ple. Peo­ple who did not par­tic­i­pate in activ­i­ties before start­ed to join us for clean­ing duties, read­ing duties, writ­ing post­cards, writ­ing thank you let­ters, etc. Some whom we have not seen for a long time got our post­cards and came to vis­it us. Some who said, “We are evac­u­at­ing and not com­ing back, so please do not wor­ry about us”, have since got­ten in touch with us say­ing, “I would like to send some mon­ey to help you with main­te­nance expens­es”. For good or ill, the closed church has start­ed to open to the out­side.

I am very hap­py that many peo­ple come for pil­grim­ages, and that we have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expand rela­tion­ships beyond the church walls. I can­not pre­dict how Hara­machi Church will change over the next few years, but I hope and think that it will become bet­ter than before.

Trans­la­tion by Aiko Kumamo­to
May 2014