Every day at 5:00 pm the city anthem plays and an announcement comes across the loud speaker. This doesn’t just promote civic pride or tell the fishermen it’s time to head home for the day; it also helps to let everyone know that the tsunami warning system is working properly. When you live on the Iwate coast, you realize everyday that you live a life entwined with the sea.
One of the most rural prefectures in Japan, the climate and culture in Iwate varies significantly between the coastal region and the inland valleys. Being separated from the industry, transportation, and urban-ness that typifies the central corridor, coastal Iwate has a more laid back and traditional way of life. The climate is also more inviting, not experiencing the extreme temperatures or snowfall that is common in the inland cities. However, this area has long been one of the most unreached parts of Japan, with churches and outside workers few in number before the tsunami.
Our team is currently based in the city of Kamaishi. Once a thriving steel production town, Kamaishi is now considered one of the more rural cities of Japan with a population just over 35,000. In 2010, Kamaishi celebrated having made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s deepest breakwater – 2,000 meters long and 63 meters deep. However, after 3 decades of work and $1.5 billion in cost, the breakwater did little to protect the city from the waves of the March 2011 tsunami.
The Kamaishi-Otsuchi-Yamada area sits in the center of the 180 km long Rikuchu Coast National Park. This combined with the dramatic mountains of the rias valleys means that it is hard to get away from beautiful scenery. Aside from the stunning coastal views, the area is also well known for crab, sea urchin, squid, and wakame seaweed. During the fall, it is common to see freshly caught salmon – still whole – hanging on people’s porches to dry.
The people living in the coastal region know they have a long road of recovery ahead. It is challenging for them to be hopeful and upbeat about the future since many of the things they knew from their old lives are either gone or different. No one quite knows when life will get back to “normal” or what normal will look like when it does. Now, more than ever, Iwate needs people to come and share the hope and faith we have in Christ.