Monday, June 6, 2011

The Lonely Shepherd - Tsunami Devastation in Japan

I have a little more than two months left in Japan and ironically enough I choose to start a 'blog 'now. Mind you I would also like to retire the overused word ‘blog’ and replace it with something more meaningful in my opinion, ‘a series of synchronic events’. So far I have been documenting my experiences via video and photography work on both my personal Facebook and Vimeo account:

However, the breadth of what I experienced this past weekend cannot be summed up in these two mediums alone and thus, I have been compelled to share the details of my experiences through the fine art form of blending words together. I must dust off my writing skills here a bit as I have not put them to good use in awhile so please bear with me through my spelling and grammatical errors. You see I have little patience and time for proof reading.

It all commenced on Wednesday, May 25th when I felt this urge, all too common to me, to embark on an adventure. Similar to any escapade I have, I always have a tough time deciding on where to go and what to do knowing that with my indecisive nature, it is always subject to change.

As it turns out a fellow Romanian “home slice” and JET, who lives on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan, just so happened to be more or less free for the weekend. Seeing how I had not visited Fukuoka City, situated close to his ‘tiny village,’ it would be my next destination. I planned the trip at school and was ready to disembark on it that very same night after consulting my trusty train schedule website. I was to leave the tranquility of my tiny town that night and arrive bright and early the next morning to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city.

I packed my traveler’s backpack with the basic necessities and then some; summer dresses, shorts, tanks, bathing suit, hair curler, makeup, etc. That very same night I hit the road with Fernando (my canon 7d DSLR) and my itinerary in hand. The journey was long and I had to switch trains three times with some long layovers where I slept in the train station cuddling myself next to a wall rather uncomfortably. Finally, I was on what I thought would be my last train and as I was enjoying the scenery something hit me deep in the pit of my stomach. Call it intuition, butterflies, fear, but it is that feeling one gets when something is not quite right. I had 20 minutes to go to my final destination and I could see no signs of a big city anywhere in the distance. I thought Fukuoka was supposed to be filled with skyscrapers, tall buildings, people and the lot, but much to my dismay what I was seeing was suburban towns. No worries, I thought, I will just get off at this station called “Fukuoka” and ask around because I have to be somewhere close to the city.

I was “fortunate” enough to run into a kind Japanese guy who was going to work early that morning and happened to know very good English. In fact, he had even helped fellow lost foreigners like myself before. There are no such things as coincidences. When I told him where I needed to go he gave me this huge look of surprise and told me that Fukuoka city was hours upon hours away from there. He then took out his iPhone and showed me where I was in Ishikawa prefecture and where I needed to be. My heart sank even more when I realized that this whole entire time I was traveling in the wrong direction and going north from Hyogo prefecture as opposed to south. If there was ever a time that I have ever felt “stupider” (side note: yes I know this word has a notoriety for not being a ‘real’ word but I happen to think that it is very fitting within this context) this had to be it.

It never once occurred to me to actually double check the direction I was going as the website I normally use to plan trips has never failed me, until now – of course. Well actually let’s be fair here, it was me who should have double-checked but at least they could have made it clearer that it was Fukuoka TOWN and not CITY.

At this stage in events I didn’t know what to do and I had to come up with new options off the top of my head.

Option 1:
I could retrace back to the main station of Kanzawa and grab a Shinkansen (bullet train) to Fukuoaka CITY. However, this would cost me a hell of a LOT of mulla and it just did not make sense given that I was already this far up north.

Option 2:
Tokyo and Nagoya were both viable options to visit. However, seeing how I did not really plan in advance, I didn’t want to be stuck doing the typical touristy things.

Option 3:
I had always intended on going up north to Sendai to volunteer with the disaster relief efforts. However, I was nowhere near prepared for a trip like this given that I didn’t know anyone up there nor how to go about volunteering. Besides Fernando, I was also clearly not prepared for the trip gear wise.

When I got back to the central station and weighed my options with the rather patient ticket seller, I realized anywhere I chose to go was going to be expensive. Due to my more daring nature and despite the obvious drawbacks of Option 3, I opted for Sendai in Miyagi prefecture.

About 7 hours later I arrived in Sendai and went straight to the information centre to find out about volunteer opportunities. The nice Japanese lady there sent me to the international centre where I inquired further. “Luckily” they had volunteer posts in a couple of locations in and around Sendai. I decided to stay the night at a cheap (by Japanese standards) and homey hostel called Maple Youth Hostel. The next morning I woke up right before the crack of dawn to catch bus 33 to Ishinomaki where they had set up the volunteer centre at Senshu University. I had left all of my belongings at the hostel, except for Fernando, thinking I would return that very same day.

What was meant to be a one and a half hour drive up to Ishinomaki turned to two hours due to the heavy traffic delays. As we got closer to our destination, I began to see visible signs of the destruction in the form of shattered store windows, collapsed houses, rubble, bricks, damaged cars, destroyed roads, etc. However, this was nowhere near what awaited me later on in the day.

Arriving at about 9AM, I made my way to the sign-in centre and was very happy to see the numerous amounts of other people who had made the trip to volunteer as well. The University grounds were covered with the tents of people camping out and there were shuttle buses taking people to different locations where they could help out. Speaking virtually little to no Japanese, I approached the first foreigner I saw who just so happened to be from my home city of Toronto. There are no such thing as coincidences. His name was Mike and he kindly helped me to sign in. Thankfully, the rules around volunteering were not very stringent (i.e. signing up in advance) and all I had to do was really just show up and offer to help. I received a volunteer badge, which was basically a huge sticker with my last name written on it in Kanji.

Mike and his Japanese friend Kaoru had already been there for a week volunteering and were set to leave that day. I commented on Mike’s white shirt that had the slogan “Pray for Japan” right above a peace sign formed by human fingers. I told him I really admired it and he immediately and generously offered it to me. I graciously accepted it because I was looking for a shirt similar to that very one. There are no such things as coincidences.

At this point I was ready to go but where? I turned to Mike and his friend for advice. I learned that much of the volunteer work revolved around shoveling waste into a pile for pick up. He told me I could do that or join him and the little team he had just gathered to help sort through and clean the dental records of a dentist’s whose office had been hit by the tsunami. Not giving it another thought, we got in his car and drove to the disaster area. I told them of my plans to film and document the relief efforts and they told me that I was free to wander about and explore the area.

The further we drove out to the coast, the more apparent the sheer force of nature became. Words alone can do no justice in describing what I witnessed and that is why I have uploaded photos and a video to my Facebook, Flickr and Vimeo account. It felt as if I was implanted into one of those many disaster blockbuster movies I saw growing up. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and helplessness. There was just so much destruction that I did not even know where to look. My senses became overloaded with what my mind was trying to comprehend; the incomprehensible. It is one thing to see the disaster on the news but to have a real first hand account of it is yet another.

When we arrived to the dental office I immediately decided to venture off on my own to kind of make sense of everything. What really struck me was how relatively peaceful the atmosphere felt despite the obvious catastrophe that was evident everywhere you turned. Although we were in the middle of this huge devastation, everyone just seemed very calm and composed. Japanese people, who either lived there or were assisting with the reconstruction, were just walking around as if regularly going about their day. A nice old lady even approached me and asked me for the time and thanked me so gratefully after I had given it to her. It just seemed so out of place in this kind of setting.

As I walked to the coast I was in puzzled to see how some buildings and/or houses were almost completely well preserved or maintained while others were just utterly destroyed. Nothing really made sense in terms of tracking the path of destruction as it seemed quite random at times. You would see one house standing beside another that was toppled over. Other houses were barely standing with their contents clearly revealed because the outer walls were ripped apart. There was so much to take in that I kind of shut down wandering around dumbfounded. What made this whole disaster real to me was in the details; the child’s toy sitting on top of the debris, the schoolbooks and bag, the baseball trophy, the kimono dress, the necklace. Seeing these details made my heart ache as I could see people’s lives and stories in these ordinary objects. The mystery of what had happened to the owner’s of these items made it even that much more painful. I deeply wanted to empathize with the people who had lived here but I knew that I could never truly even begin to comprehend the impact that it has on their lives. So I decided to do something that I don’t normally do consciously. I decided to take the advice that was written on the shirt Mike gave to me and pray. I don’t really know how to pray and I don’t think there is a proper way to go about doing it. I think the important part is to just think positive thoughts and bless people with them. I am a huge believer in the power of positive thinking and I do think that on one level or another it does have an impact especially if done collectively. Thus, I just prayed for everyone impacted by the disaster and their families. I hope that you can join me to. Just take a break right now from reading this and send out your prayers for Japan. I know some may be reluctant in acknowledging the power of prayer but if you believe it works. So just believe it. The mind can be used as a very powerful tool for good.

What was uplifting to see was the recovery process. Dark green military trucks driving about everywhere, _____ lifting rubble and debris to be taken to garbage dump zones, citizens cleaning, rebuilding or recovering what was left of their homes, etc. This was a true sign of the willingness, determination and strength of the human spirit to simply let it be, move on and rebuild life. I have always admired the Japanese people but this took on a whole new level after seeing how they were dealing with what this event had left them; nothing. They say that a lot can be revealed about a person’s character in their darkest moments and the Japanese character is truly made of perseverance and goodwill.

I vividly remember walking about and taking photos when a group of Japanese workers taking a smoke and coffee break invited me to join them. At this point, my spirits had just been dragging alongside my feet helplessly and I was holding myself together so I would not cry at the sight of everything. I gladly accepted their comforting invitation. There we were huddled in a circle attempting to communicate despite our obvious language barriers. Surprisingly, they were very interested in me and where I was from. Of course, most people normally are given that I am a foreigner in a predominantly homogenous society, but given the dire circumstances I guess I did not know how I would interact with the people affected by the aftermath. The conversation ran smoothly and they were the first, much to my surprise, to smile and laugh as we got to know each other. I was very blessed and humbled in their presence. Their high spirits uplifted mine. They even offered me a can of coffee and a smoke (I don’t smoke), which truly showed their generous spirit. They had lost almost everything yet they were still willing to give with no expectation of anything in return except my company. When they got back to work I thanked them profusely and continued on.

During my walk I also encountered a little boy who must have been less then 5 years old and what appeared to be his grandfather. He was playing around on the street carrying a wheel barrel and hoping to carry some of the sand bags that were laid out on the side. His home was right across the street and it had been very visibly damaged with the whole wall having been ripped off. I could basically see into their home whose contents had been shaken and thrown about everywhere. The mother appeared to be cooking lunch. I introduced myself to him and he was very curious about me. His grandfather and mother were laughing and greeting me. I did not want to ask any questions. I just wanted to be.

Along the way, I met countless of other people and we always acknowledged each other with a “Konnichiwa” or bow of the head. Sometimes trucks passing by would honk at me to say hello. I saw a woman loading a bouquet of flowers in a car for delivery. I went into a damaged store and bought an apple from what little they had left to sell. I also saw two women taking their adorable young daughters for a stroll. The two little girls were wearing these shoes that made a squeak every time they took a step and they were doing so ecstatically. They giggled and smiled at me and I could not help but just be happy by their childish innocence.

I finally made it back to the dentist’s office where I found Mike and the team still there. They said they were heading back home to Yokohama and I asked for a lift to the volunteer grounds. On our way back we made a pit stop at the military onsen, which they claimed I had to experience. For those of you not familiar with the very popular Japanese onsens they are basically hot bathhouses where completely naked men and women (separately) go for their own cleaning, relaxation and enjoyment. I guess it was a bit surreal to actually see one on where the Japanese military had setup base. They allowed anyone and everyone to just go in for free. Apparently, the lineup to go in was at its peak at night. Normally speaking these onsens are housed in buildings or outdoors but this one was in a tent. Accompanying me in the ladies onsen were two Japanese girls who had also made a long trip down to volunteer. They were both very lovely and offered me both a towel and a ride back to the University. Of course, before we all parted our different ways we exchanged Facebook details. Facebook is becoming very common all over Japan.

Back at the University, I was determined to catch a ride to go see the town of Onagawa, which according to many people, was one if not the worst hit areas they had seen. I asked the volunteer centre and they informed me that there were no shuttle buses going into that area for the disaster was so enormous that they were currently not enlisting any volunteer help. I kept pushing it and asking if there was any other way to get there or if they knew of anyone driving up there. Unfortunately they didn’t, but one kind man told me that I could borrow a bike and attempt to bicycle all the way there. However, he did also warn me that the ride up there by car was 40 minutes. Apparently, it was doable to do this trip in an hour because someone else had done it. I looked at my time saw that it was 2pm and that I had plenty of time to make it there and back by 5pm judging by his calculations. I told him that I was willing to go at it alone and he was kind of stunned asking me if I knew where it was. I said no but that I could find out as I was pedaling down the road– I really just needed a general sense of direction to go in. Just then another fellow volunteer who was leaving that day stepped in and offered some guidance along with words of encouragement. He also told me that if I missed my last bus to Sendai, that I could most likely seek the help of his friend, Gavin, who was camping out. Gavin would probably have some tent space for me to sleep in despite the fact that I only came with the clothes on my back and Fernando. There are no such things as coincidences.

And thus, that is how I set out for Onagawa on my rented #5 bicycle listening to music on my Ipod for emotional support as I navigated through heavy traffic and vast stretches of ruined streets. I don’t think I ever thought things completely through, I never really do. I just go with my gut instinct. Every now and then I would stop and ask someone for directions to make sure I was heading the right away. Every time I did this, the person would give me a blank stare followed by surprise after realizing that I wanted to bicycle all the way there. Yes, I was and am still a bit crazy but who said crazy was a bad thing?

At one point I began following the street signs and Kanji for Onagawa, which lead me to a dark tunnel that only cars could pass through. I was forced to take a long detour and follow another route that seemed to stretch on forever. Eventually I realized that I was heading back to where I was earlier that day and I still had a long way to go. I did not mind bicycling on but I just wanted to get a sense of just how much further I had to go. As if by cue, I saw a group of four people filming in front of a torn house parallel to a school. One of the guys, whose name I later learned was Mark, had a black cap on with a Canadian flag on it. He was shooting with the same camera I had the canon 7d. There are no such things as coincidences.

I abruptly stopped and sought their attention after they finished filming. They too reacted in the same way when I told them of my intentions to go to Onagawa as it was 30 km away! I hate to admit it but at this point I was feeling a bit defeated as even if I made it all the way there, I did not and could not bicycle back in the dark. I asked their thoughts about me trying to hitchhike there and one of them stepped in to save my day saying that they were intending on going there. They did not really offer me a ride and normally I am not very pushy but in this desperate situation I just flat out asked if I could get a ride with them. They looked at one another and figured why not as they had a free space in the car, albeit I really had to squeeze in. Overwhelmed with joy, I parked my bicycle at the school for later pickup and joined them on their journey. I learned that they were actually filming a documentary for the Discovery Channel about structural engineering and how buildings could better be built to withstand natural disasters in the future. Very interesting stuff.

The documentary team was composed of the producer Mark who was from Toronto, Kevin who was the camera man and editor from Vancouver, Masato who was from Japan and finally, Kit who was the interviewee and the CEO of a structural engineering company in California. Just to show you how small this world really is, Mark and I were struck by the strangely similar connections we shared. For starters we both graduated from the same University back in Toronto and from similar programs, journalism and radio and TV broadcasting. If that was not enough, we also grew up in the same suburb town, although many decades a part, and graduated from the same high school. I would just like to stress yet again that there are no such things as coincidences.

One of the main subjects in their documentary was Kit. Kit was actually originally of Japanese descent but had moved to the States thirty years ago where he now resided. Kit had seen a lot of natural disasters in his lifetime having been to Haiti several times to help with the rebuilding process. His knowledge and intelligence was really beyond me and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the interviews they conducted with him. I actually became “the listener” in that they placed me right behind the camera so that he responded to me, as opposed to the lens, while they were asking the questions. This made him more comfortable for as he put it, I made for a very good listener. I requested that I get a credit for that role at the end of the documentary. ☺

On the road to Onagawa, we made a pit stop at a mall called AEON that had been completely saved from the tsunami even though it was in the disaster zone. Again, I would like to stress how random the path of destruction appeared to me. There lay this mall that was completely intact and functioning. When we walked inside it felt like we entered a different world, as if nothing had happened outside of its walls. It was filled with people just going on about their day shopping. It really made me forget where I was as I grabbed a bite to eat.

After lunch we set out again for Onagawa following the winding road until we reached our destination that left us all pretty much speechless. The devastation was literally beyond what any of us had seen. Kit who had seen many such disasters in his lifetime said that this was the worst one he had ever witnessed. The most accurate description I could give is that of a nuclear disaster. Everything was just in utter ruins with some concrete storey buildings that had been ripped from their foundations and toppled over, cars both on top of and inside buildings and houses, collapsed gas tanks, etc. You can check out my pictures for a better idea although nothing really replaces the feeling of seeing it for yourself.

We walked around amongst the ruins for about two hours. While the guys filmed their documentary, I also did my own documenting. There was literally just so much to see that I did not even know where to begin so I just wandered about aimlessly. My sensory system was just on overload.

One of the miraculous aspects about the town was how the hospital had remained effectively undamaged. I am not sure if it was by purposeful design or “fluke” but they had constructed the building on top of a hill so the waves never reached it. Even higher above the hospital lay a shrine that you reached by climbing many steps. I must say it was quite the workout getting all the way up there. When we finally reached the top, the view revealed the real range of damage unseen at ground level. There was a little graveyard to the left of the shrine and Kit told me that you could see evidence of the earthquake in the way some of the stone plates had fallen off of the tombstones.

You can get a better mental picture of Onagawa by checking out the video I made at the scene. I created the film in a way that places you in my footsteps seeing through my eyes. The main purpose of the video is to really show the force of nature, extent of disaster and the sense of the vulnerability we all share as human beings in the light of such events. We really have no control over them in terms of when and how they strike, but what we can control is what we do before and after they occur.

Continuing on, the team rapped up their filming at about 6:30pm and judging by the rapidly diminishing sunlight, I knew that I would not be able to ride my bike back to the camp. Thus, we set off at dusk, got a bit lost along the way and made it back to the University by nightfall. I said my goodbyes, traded contact details and was yet again on my own with no place to sleep and no ride back into Sendai. I was now in search of Gavin, the guy who could quite possibly provide me with a tent space to sleep.
I scurried off to find him in the pitch dark. Much to my surprise it did not really take long to spot him. There was a group of people gathered around in the middle of the campus field and I figured that was my best guess. I approached the first person I saw and they pointed him out to me. I began by saying, “Gavin you don’t know me but I know you.” Everyone grew silent and curious. I followed that with “I need a place to sleep tonight” and explained my situation. Judging by everyone’s proceeding laughter, I made quite the entrance and first impression. I was quickly helped to a seat, offered a warm outdoor jacket and given some Australian boxed wine or what they refer to in Oz Land as goon. I was home for the night. It was there huddled around a lantern that I met even more great people including Nico, Mike, Gavin and Chu. Nico was the first to read my mind by saying that in life “there are no such thing as coincidences” after I told them my story.

We spoke for about two hours before they headed off to karaoke to celebrate one last night together as Mike and Nico were heading back the next day. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted from the days winding path that I could not muster up the energy to go with them. Thus, I chose to hit the sack.

That night it rained and I had some trouble falling asleep as I do not often sleep outdoors - although I would not mind doing it more often. The next morning we awoke at 5:30am to an overcast day on the verge of rain, drove to pick up my bike from the school (thanks to Nico!) and made pancakes. These were no ordinary pancakes I must say. They were superb, fluffy and went down great with the Guatemalan coffee we sipped on that was graciously offered by another fellow volunteer from Guatemala. His name was Martin and like many others I met on the journey, we shared an instant bond from the moment we met. He had actually been living in Japan near Mt. Fuji for nearly a decade now. I was supposed to get a ride back to Sendai with Nico and Mike but seeing how their car was crammed with a week’s worth of belongings I stayed back with Martin.

Martin and I decided to pay a “visit” to one of the many dumping grounds that was literally a mountain of trash. As I did not have a change of clothes or any appropriate attire for the rain he lent me his “spare” blue rain jacket and pants. We climbed on top of this massive trash pile and walked, talked and took photographs for about two hours. As Madonna famously sang, “we are living in a material world.” There were so many objects that caught our attention for in a way they all told their own mysterious tales. They were once the possessions of someone and now they had been deduced to mere rubbish. Some trash, like these rain boots we came upon, was clearly new judging by the receipts still attached to them. All the time, energy and resources that went into producing them was now wasted as well; as is the case with so much of what the world produces. By the enormity of the garbage below our very own feet we agreed that it symbolized in one way or another the need for the death of the material world. In a very real sense, all these objects, although used to define us, are also destroying our planet because they put a real pressure on our natural environment that cannot sustain our rapid need for growth. Of course, I am not speaking in the context of Japan but from the perspective of the entire planet as we are all connected, whether we like to admit it or not. Our pursuit of the “American Dream” is leading to many of the problem that we as a human race face today including global warming among many others that I will not go into here. All the plastic that has ever been created since its invention is still on our planet today! Where is all this plastic going to go? There is some food for thought.

Sorry for going on a bit of a tangent here, but I will stop right there for I can expand on that topic forever. Let’s just say that Martin and I delved right into many interesting conversations some of a more philosophical and metaphysical nature.
As mid-afternoon approached we made our way back to the camp to have one final meal with Chu before my departure to Sendai. Chu is a great Japanese guy of Korean origin from Kobe. He had come up here to volunteer as well and was planning on doing so for the next couple of months. He cooked us a very delicious lunch of instant noodles while we enjoyed each other’s company and listened to The Beatles. Let it be.

Martin walked me to the bus station but on the way there we made a stop at a local clothing store where he was displaying some of his beautiful artwork. He had actually helped the storeowner cleanup his conjoined home and business after it was flooded. Despite what this man and his family had undergone in the past two months, his hospitality was touching. As soon as we made our entrance he did not hesitate to offer us sweets, strawberries and beverages. We enjoyed each other’s company for another half hour or so while Martin painted a picture of a black and white cat – my family has one too. None of the discussion really revolved around what had happened because I figured that if the storeowner did not bring it up, I would not either. There was a real sense of moving on. We spoke about where we were from and what we were doing in Japan.

Time passed and before long we said our goodbyes and I made my way to the station to catch the 5:11 bus to Sendai. At this point it was raining and when we arrived in the city I had to make the half-hour walk back to the hostel. I stank of what could only be described as a combination of wet dog, garbage and tires. It was not pleasant at all and I felt sorry for anyone who happened to be in my vicinity.

I need to backtrack here a bit because I left out some detail that I now see as relevant to the continuation of this chronicle. Before I had arrived in Sendai I had contacted a friend back in Hyogo prefecture in desperation. I knew she had a boyfriend living in Sendai who could possibly help me out. His name was Hiroyuki. She got in touch with him on my behalf and he in turn called me and offered a place to stay with his friends on the Friday all through to Sunday night. I never got to stay with his friends because of obvious reasons, which I have detailed out in this story. I texted Hiroyuki on the bus back and asked him if his offer to stay with his friends’ on Sunday night was still possible and he said yes. However, by the time I got back to the hostel to pick up my stuff all I wanted to do was take a shower and hit the sack. So I just stayed there another night and enjoyed a very delicious Japanese vegetarian breakfast the next morning.

Sunday morning rain is falling… The next day I ditched my previous plan to take the early bullet train back home and opted instead to meet with Hiroyuki who kindly offered to show me around Sendai. My plan was to now take the night bus to Kyoto and then take the train back home from there. Unfortunately, the weather on Sunday was not very agreeable and I resorted to seeing Sendai from the comfort of his passenger’s seat. We drove to the coast following traffic sign 23 so I could see the damage done there. This was a more industrial zone and you could see whole manufacturing companies in ruins, collapsed or otherwise seriously damaged. We also drove out to Sendai airport where I was surprised to see a fully functioning airport. On the way to the airport we passed long stretches of empty fields that were once housing zones and all that was left were mere remnants of what had once been. You could also see boats that had been swept in hundreds of feet’s inland.

We decided to take a break and grab lunch at a huge shopping centre. Once again, the atmosphere inside of the mall was just “normal” and was a huge contrast to what I had been exposed to earlier that day. It was quite refreshing to see this. After lunch, I found myself very tired and so we decided to hit a Starbucks near the central train station and just relax before my bus out. We also visited a bookstore and I bought a very interesting book called “Friendship with God,” which I just recently finished. It is not a “religious” book by any stretch (more spiritual) but it speaks of a god, energy, creator, source, or what ever you want to call it, of unconditional love for all sentient beings. Among many other messages, its main message was that we are all one, which I always happened to agree with. I am not saying there are no differences between human beings but there is no such thing as a “better” race or “better” person but just different. At the core, regardless of our background, we are just all human beings. Thus, as the all too common saying goes treat people the way you want to be treated. In other words, what goes around comes around. The more good you put out into the world the more good you receive. So pay it forward!

The book, part of a three-book triliology called “Conversations with God” also taught that there are no such things as coincidences in life. So I guess what I can deduct from that was it was not a coincidence for me to come across this book. I can agree with that too for much of what the book said resonated with me. I highly recommend it for anyone and everyone as it gives real practical advice on how to better create your own reality and in the process have a real impact on the world. In short, it was inspirational.

As nightfall approached signaling it was time to leave I said my goodbyes to Hiroyuki and thanked him profusely for both his time and generosity. I then made my way to grab some grub for the long bus ride where I had one last encounter ordering a bean burger at a fast food chain called “Freshness Burger.” There were two foreign guys also standing their looking all sharp in suits with their luggage in hand waiting for their order. They suggested I order large as opposed to the small fries given the portion sizes in Japan. From there we indulged into a ten-minute conversation where I found that both of them were professional baseball players living in Sendai. One was African American and from New York, while the other was Dominican. The guy from New York said he had lived in Toronto playing for the Blue Jays (Toronto baseball team for those of you who don’t know) and we reminisced about home. They invited me out for the night but seeing how I had to leave that night we traded contact details and saved the outing for a future date. There are no such things as coincidences in life.

Finally, this is where I reach my conclusion. I think. I hopped on the bus and made it to Kyoto early that next day to find out that there was a major typhoon in my area and that all trains going up there had been delayed. I had to make a detour through Osaka and then back up to get home. It was a very, very long journey home but in the end it was all worth it. I was “lucky” enough to make it back to school by 2pm and thereby avoid taking a vacation day. School had been cancelled and students got to stay home although, as always, teachers had to show up and look busy.

To stand back and reflect now on my experiences of that weekend is fascinating. I realize that everything came in place at the right time and space sequence. Whenever I need something or someone, it was always provided. Sure I felt lost and fearful some of the time but as long as I affirmed that everything happened for my greater good, it always did. I also came to realize that volunteering is not only about helping others but also about helping yourself and growing as a person. In other words, volunteering has mutual benefits even though you may not always realize them right away. If you have the opportunity to go up and volunteer with the relief effort please do so as you meet many wonderful people and really end up loving Japan that much more. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have met and experienced everything I did. My blessings and prayers are with the people of Japan as they rebuild a future for themselves.


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  2. After viewing your linkedin profile and your talents it is no surprise to me that your skills would expand in multiple directions. This was a great read and excellent series of synchronic events. Quite amazing you had the opportunity to help the people who were devastated, and your right, the growth is within yourself as well.