I tried explaining to a couple of people the opportunity we were given the last four days to experience both joy and sadness. In an effort to avoid being melodramatic, it was still difficult to explain without tears. Tears of gratitude, empathy, sadness and awe at the fortitude of Toshiaki’s family, relatives and the people of Yamada. I will relay some stories and pictures in future posts.
The good news however, was being able to witness the reunion of Toshiaki and his family. Before we left Tokyo, JoAnn asked Toshiaki if there would be hugs exchanged when meeting his family. We laughed and I confidently said “no.” Twelve years prior, before our move to Las Vegas, we made a trip to Yamada with our niece, Katie, who was visiting from California. We spent a couple of lovely days with his family and Katie got a taste of country-side living. Although Obaachan (Grandma) and Katie couln’t speak each others language they somehow communicated on important issues such as, food, baths, toilets and sleeping arrangements. Upon our departure Katie automatically went up to Obaachan and hugged her (something I have learned to refrain from doing). Emi and Miki noticing Katie’s gesture followed suit. I watched this, shrugged and joined in the “American” gesture of gratitude. Obaachan didn’t seem to mind. She smiled and giggled, then all eyes went to Toshiaki, who dutifully bowed to her and off we went.
With this in mind I was surprised when we arrived in Morioka and were greeted by Toshiaki’s brother Isao, who bowed to him, while my sister-in-law, Reiko came toward me with arms wide open. All bets were off. In the coming days I proceeded to hug each family member that would allow me.
Toshiaki stuck to tradition except for the one day that we rode bikes though the ruins of town. A high school classmate, Sasaki had set-up a make-shift shoe store out of his car trunk in the place where his shoe-store and house once stood. He spotted Toshiaki and I first and yelled out Toshiaki’s name as if no time had passed. Toshiaki nearly jumped off the bike and ran to his friend. They grabbed each others shoulders and gasped in gratitude. The next half hour or so was spent going down their mental list of classmates and the stories of what happened to them…. who was saved, who was in a refugee shelter and who was swept away.