The title of this blog post ironically sounds like the first sentence of a murder mystery novel, but don't fret, this story is a happy one. I promise.
My story begins with a taxi ride. Not just any ordinary taxi ride, but one that oddly doesn't have a pre-determined destination. Marine Taxi, a company based in the seaside town of Yamada, promotes the area's tourism with its "tsunami-talk" tours. The taxis carry visitors through many intricate, labyrinthine roads that lead to numerous sites that are known to have suffered the worst of the colossal waves in 2011. By spreading awareness and encouraging the remembrance of the town's suffering in the disaster, Yamada has boosted its popularity amongst curious travelers.
Masao Tachibana had been a taxi driver before the tsunami, and still continues in this profession. Although not originally from Yamada, his love for the town truly shows through his abundance in knowledge and devotion towards his passion as a spokesperson for the natural disaster. Tachibana was my personal guide during my taxi tour of the area.
My first stop was a local 'neighborhood' of temporary housing units. As I got out of the car, I heard a very old, traditional-sounding Japanese song harmoniously playing from the megaphone of a small, aged truck. As I got closer, I discovered there was a 'moving market' that had made its stop at this group of homes. Because proper roads are still under construction, a quick drive downtown can turn into a time consuming task. Therefore, these convenient mobile markets make their way around several villages in order to allow residents to purchase fresh produce without having to make a tedious trip to the supermarket.
The citizens of this mini village were extremely humble, and for absolutely no reason, thanked me for visiting their dwellings. I was stunned. I should have been thanking them for letting me capture their everyday lives with my intrusive camera, but instead I heard a multitude of "お茶でも飲んでって” ("Come in for some tea"). These words of kindness and hospitality that I received really stunned me. I had found another reason for why Japan is praised for being such a polite, mannered nation.
The next stop was a hill that had a scenic overlook of the teal-colored ocean. Although this place currently displays nothing but pure beauty, four years earlier it had been turned into a wasteland, literally. The tsunami was recorded to have reached its tallest height in this area, at a whopping 25 meters (82 feet). Tachibana described that a couple of days after the disaster, there was a laundry machine stuck in the top of a tree for several months.
The taxi ride to me felt almost like a very detailed history lesson outside of the average textbook, as well as a very important life lesson for me. I was stunned by not only the beautiful sights, but also by all of the good-natured individuals I met.
Many lives, many memories, and many hopes for the future may have been taken away by this tragic event four years ago, but the contagious smiles and warmheartedness of this town will always be here to stay.