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S E N D A I  R E P O R T by Ekei Zenji
on a visit with Shodo Harada Roshi soon after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011

Ekei Zenji is a German monk from Sogenji temple in Okayama Japan
 
March 28 April
1, 2011
Letter From Sogenji abbot SHODO HARADA ROSHI ABOUT HIS VISIT TO SENDAI

Letter from Domyo, a French monk   ---   On Ejo Takata by Andreas Ekei Zettl




On the evening of March 28, Harada Roshi, Domyo and Ekei took the Shinkansen to Kyoto and then embarked on a night bus towards the city of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, one of the severely damaged prefectures by the earthquake and tsunami flood wave of March 11. Bread has been baked before at Sogenji by Raine and others and during the day Mazakosan, Kumitomisan and Chisan prepared and packed food, water and other supplies for us and the people in the damaged area in our backpacks. In Kyoto, while waiting for the bus, the Yamaguchis joined us and gave us a big box full of hot packs and some sushi bento for our trip. We had nine pieces of luggage for three persons and twelve hours of bus ride before us till Sendai. The bus arrived next morning quiet in the center of the city amidst high elegant office buildings, clean quiet roads, the morning sun was shining from a clear sky and nothing could be seen here of any disaster.
 
While we were waiting
for the priest of Zenoji temple, a young man approached, asking were we wanted to go while pointing to a minibus with the logo of the local University which was offering volunteer service. Roshi thanked the student and told him that we would be picked up. Soon after Zenojisan and his son arrived, we packed everything in the van and drove out of downtown. Roshi mentioned that there was no damage from the earthquake to be seen on the big buildings we passed by. The priest said, Well, who knows how they look inside. There was a gasoline shortage and we could see on our way long waiting lines of cars before the gas stations, most of them not even supplying. Also there was no gas for cooking and heating in the houses and the temple where we would be lodging for the next two days and nights, but we were told that they had meanwhile learned to cook good rice on the kerosene stove.
 
We saw the first real earthquake damage when we approached a bridge of the Shinkansen line where the poles carrying power lines were tumbled and it would take quiet a time till it would be repaired we heard.
Leaving the Shinkansen line behind, we drove through an area of the city which was reached by the tsunami wave. The big road was already cleared but the side way was full of destroyed and toppled cars, some hanging hood pointing to the sky in fences, big shipping containers and trucks washed off the road, a devastated gasoline station. The wave destroyed most first floors of the houses and we could see through and wherever we looked there was all kind of debris scattered around, from fridges, sofas, vending machines, clothes in the trees, to a lonesome teddy bear someone had set up straight in a gesture. On the front side of a closed store we could see the line the water level had left; it was not much more than one and a half meter above floor but the impact of the wave was strong enough to cause all this mess. Nevertheless this was still kind of mild compared with what we should see later on this day. The whole area felt evidently depressed and was more or less abandoned. Between eight and nine o'clock in the morning there was little traffic. Some military vehicles passed by as we drove on. We saw some convenience stores on the way. They were closed but with some side door open where people were lined up, most probably for water or some food.
 
Shortly after, we reached a residential quarter of the city with a higher location and untouched by the tsunami, but damage by the earthquake was still evident.
Many of the houses had wrapped blue vinyl tarps on the roof, strapped with strings and stabilized with sandbags to prevent more damage.
 
Arriving at Zenoji temple, we first went to the hondo to chant a sutra and offer our reverence and prostrations together with the priests, then
unpacked and presented the supplies we had brought and finally had breakfast together. There was rice balls wrapped in nori, seaweed, and instant miso soup. Since there were no vegetables available in town, we gladly shared some of the vegetable dishes we had brought from Sogenji. Our hosts told us that the rice we ate was already cooked with electricity, which had returned two days ago.
 
After breakfast, without loosing much time, the hot packs, bread, sweets and other food we brought with us were distributed in several bags and we started out to visit a row of Rinzai Zen temples scattered in the city area. Most of them, except one, had not suffered mayor damage, but some were lodging still some homeless people and gratefully received our supplies. Roshi also offered some donation of money at every place.
 
At some point on our way we drove straight into the most affected zone, closer by the seaside. Since some of the roads were already cleared out, we could partially
enter this area and what we saw was just total devastation of what was formerly some residential area. Over hundreds of meters, as far as we could look, most houses were just washed away, leaving only the bare basements surrounded and covered with debris; again many cars crashed and scattered like wrinkled paper or hanging on halfway toppled electricity poles; some of them were broken on the top and lay with the cables mixed up among other garbage. Some structures of houses were as a whole carried away and laying on places they were not built, in the midst of what was formerly a pond, or stuck in a group of trees. Further on we drove by a structure of what was formerly a railway station. The cars of the train were pulled hundreds meters from the railway into some houses and the front of the station was blocked with several stems of big coastal pine trees with the great stems of the roots still on them.
 
Driving through all this and with the kind help of a clean up worker, we finally found our way to one temple in the area which had suffered some damage.
Luckily, between the site of the temple and the seashore there was a group of hills , which took away most of the impact, but even so the flood reached the brand new building and destroyed nearly completely the first floor. Repair work was already going on and the young monk who received us told us that he was still training at Daitokuji sodo in Kyoto and had received permission from the monastery to come and help out with the work.
 
Looking through the entrance into the first floor, again there was a line on the wall, about two meters above the floor, marking the level the flood
water had reached. In the tokonoma niche there was still hanging a big scroll with the calligraphy Mu by Mumon Roshi and the line went straight through the upper part of the calligraphy the message however was clearly there. After offering our support and a while of talk we climbed again in our vehicle to continue on our way.
 
The road we followed went around the hills and brought us again in one of the most affected areas, partially still covered with water and mud and as good as nearly completely flattened. On the slope of a small hill we could see some remnants of a destroyed temple of another sect. The big heavy tile roof of the hondo had been swept as a whole over the hill and lay several hundred meters away in a channel. Soldiers were patrolling still. Sadly we heard that the priest of the site had died together with so many others in the incident.
 
Slowly we drove our way out of the area, still passing by some kind of surrealistic scenes, an empty structure of a house by the shore side of the road with a fishing boat on top of it. The further we drove out of the region, the lesser the damage that surrounded us.
 
Our next goal on this morning was Zuiganji temple in nearby Matsushima. Zuiganji is quiet close to the shore side, but the many islands in the bay formed an efficient protection, so that only some flood waters came to the front gardens and damaged some of the tourist shops at the entrance.
 
13 years ago, late Hirano Roshi, then abbot of Zuiganji allowed me to sit for a while in the zendo and then signaled my way to Sogenji. Today I was grateful for the chance of coming back and together with Roshi, Domyosan and Zenojisan we offered prayers and homage at his altar.

 
We had lunch at Zuiganji and on our way back, we visited one more last temple. It had lodged up to five hundred people during the first days of calamity and actually there were still ninety persons living there.
Children were chasing and joyfully playing around, we gave them the sweets we brought for them and they were just happy, a little boy all smiles showing his gift in his hand. Fresh life, innocent and without concern. Every place we went, people were very grateful for our visit and some supplies.
 
Back at Zenoji we got some time to rest. There was a light earthquake in the
afternoon scaled at around three points and then a stronger one in the evening of 6.5 points. Zenojisan brought us the evening newspaper and it said that in the prefecture of Miyagi a hundred and forty-six thousand cars had been destroyed, eleven thousand six hundred people had died, and another ten thousand were missing, probably drawn into the ocean when the wave pulled back never to be found. The tsunami had a height of twenty meters, at some places even thirty meters and had reached up to 4km into the land. After what we had seen during the day, this sounded credible. On the front page of the newspaper there was a big picture of a brand new family house, not even yet in use, on its way of being pushed down the slope of a hill by the earthquake and completely unusable. Amidst the tremendous human suffering and loss, brand new houses completely destroyed and years of paying mortgage ahead, was a common drama among some of the surviving people we heard.
 
During the afternoon we had some time to look around the grounds of Zenoji temple, which had a big graveyard along the hillside. Many of the grave stones were toppled, stone lanterns brought down and some damage in the hondo wall, all in all not so unfortunate a situation. In front of the hondo at a side stand the big bell and Zenojisan told us that during the earthquake it was ringing by itself. In the second floor of a building, there was a room where the traditional memorial tablets (Ihai), each with the name of
a deceased person, were kept. In all there were thirteen hundred of them, arranged in order and kept in vitrines along the walls and all were toppled over and laying stray one upon the other.
 
Next morning, March 30, we got up early, had choka including a sutra for the victims which we have been chanting since the first day of the disaster in Sogenji, did the daily cleaning of our quarters, the hondo and some of the gardens, and after
breakfast started to work on the toppled memory tablets. They had to be taken out carefully one by one, dusted and then rearranged in the vitrines according to the established order. Two helpers from the community had arrived and were working all day. Among six persons we had put in order nearly half of them at the end of the day.
 
Next day, the 31st, we took the bus back in the early rainy morning to Tokyo where Shogen was waiting for us. We had a short meeting, Roshi took the Shinkansen to Okayama to be in time for Shukushin, and Domyo and me waited for the night bus. In
Tokyo all shops closed at 6pm because of the electricity shortage. Next morning we were back at Sogenji, where the cherry blossoms by the pond were just in full bloom.
 
Ekei Zenji, Sogenji, April 3, 2011