Friday, March 8, 2013

Yamamoto City: LHS experiences emptiness, strawberries; performs for locals

The LHS group visited Yamamoto City, a town near Iwanuma City to experience a new perspective on the tsunami's devastating effects and communities' strides to rebuild a better future.  They were joined by a local university student and a handful of local high school students who lived in Iwanuma during the time of the tsunami.

"The tsunami hit my house," said Izumi, a high school student who joined the team for their bus tour of the area. "Water rose through the first floor of my house; I was very scared.  My grandparents and I climbed to the second floor and stayed in the flooded area for the night."

She paused.

"The next day my father came to see us," she said later. "It was a scary, scary experience."

Hannah's note: One of the most difficult tasks while preparing for the blog today
was intentionally photographing nothing. How does one go about capturing the
immensity of the emptiness and the eeriness of what remains?

"In my neighborhood, many people were killed by the tsunami," said another girl, Kana.

During the tour, the group drove past an elementary school that had been destroyed by the tsunami. At the time of the earthquake, the students were in school. Since their homes were at least a thirty minute walk away, the staff decided to keep the students at school rather than sending home.  They sent them upstairs to the ninth floor of the building when the tsunami hit.

Elementary school destroyed by the tsunami.
Although the building was destroyed, there were no casualties.

"When I first saw the elementary school, it amazed me that all of the people survived," said junior Dylan Timothy. "I was surprised that the building wasn't completely destroyed. Everywhere else, just the foundation remained; just the elementary school still had the outline."

One of the students who joined the LHS team was a student, Ryo, who just graduated from high school. When the disaster hit, he was relocated to Sendai City. Touring the area with the group was first time seeing the coastal side since the disaster.

"I was completely shocked. It's a devastated situation," he said. "I've decided to work on the reconstruction of this area now that I've seen what has happened to my hometown."

Senior Jesse van der Vorst had the opportunity to sit next to Ryo during the bus ride.

"[Although] we didn't talk at all since our guide was speaking during the ride, it felt good to sit next to someone who it had struck home with," said van der Vorst. "Seeing this is kind of impactful for us, but it's not as bad because we can escape the disaster. This is his hometown. I felt camaraderie while he shared his decision to help."

"I want to be a nurse," she said, "so I'm sure to be back here in my hometown once I graduate."

Although the town still has incredible progress to make to reconstruct the area, the residents demonstrate authentic prospects of hope. Hiromi Taguchi, the woman in charge of planning the schedule for the day, stated that the goal of the day was to focus on the growth and the youth in the Yamamoto area.

Local children and their supervisors wave to the LHS group as they drive by.
Accompanied by the local students, the group visited a strawberry greenhouse to help understand the progress that locals are making to keep the community growing and moving forward.

Founder of the community
strawberry farm.
"We started the business because so many of the local farmers were damaged by the tsunami," explained the founder of the greenhouse project (pictured left). "I was so moved by their devastation, I decided to help. We realized that they were suffering and couldn't see a future for themselves. Here, they can continue to farm and be a productive part of their community."

 Their long term goal is to do business with 100 companies and employ 1000 farmers within the next ten years.

The greenhouse uses new farming technology that is nontraditional to typical farming styles. The founder invited the team to try the strawberries; rather than giving one strawberry to each participant, he invited them eat as many strawberries they desired in a designated section.

The team was amazed by the quality and taste of the strawberries. Many stated that it was easily the most delicious strawberries they had ever consumed.

That afternoon, the nineteen student musicians and Don Emmons -- their director -- had the opportunity to share their performance. They played an set of eight songs, ranging from songs mimicking the seasons to jazz overtones to echoing themes of hope.

"It felt so wonderful to finally play for people because it gave me a feeling that performing actually does good," said senior Caroline Baker, who plays the French horn. "Sometimes I worry that we do it for self-indulgence, but this made me feel good that we could perform for them."

Audience applauds the LHS music group after their performance.
Senior Leslie Groff was featured in a solo in the group's performance of "The Lark in the Clear Air" by Clifton Taylor.

"It was amazing [to play] because of who the audience was, because they were people who had been affected so badly," she said. "They had been affected by such a big event and they clearly had such a rough experience. To be able to play such a moving song and bring people to tears was amazing."

Afterwards, the team participated in a community activity in which they painted images of strawberries -- a symbol of growth and empowerment in the community -- onto cloths with the locals in the audience.

The paintings will be used as a reminder to the community about the kizuna that had been formed between the groups.


  1. So cool!!! :) Sounds like you are having the times of your lives!!!!

  2. Hannah et al: You are doing a terrific job documenting your daily, and hourly, experiences and emotions from 'scrumdiliumptious' to heavenly, devastating to hopeful. Thank you for your efforts, your talent, your humanity. It really is a joy and a privilege for your Littleton family to share your experiences as they move and change each of you. Play on, paint more, laugh, cry, hug and taste more intentionally every day.

    Blessings and love,
    Mrs. S

  3. Thanks again -- so nice to hear you guys playing