Thursday was a very long day. Late Wednesday night, I received a mission to go up to Iwate prefecture, about an eight hour drive. We were to leave at 7 a.m. After getting the pertinent details and loading supplies, Ginny and I sent off on the long windy drive through snow-capped mountains, to the northern coast of Honshu. The north is not very densely populated, so traffic was minimal and we made good time. We drove past Sendai city and saw little damage, and found our way to the city of Otsuchi-cho, where we were to pick up.
The devastation was sudden and immediate. One moment we were driving through normal looking neighborhoods, the next through mountains of unrecognizable rubble, stretching into the distance. Even a month and a half on, the piles are enormous and look like they did when the tsunami first happened. Japan Self Defense Force members and other uniformed officers crawled over the wreckage like ants, combing through it and making transfers of debris, bits of sand in a gigantic Texas anthill. Perhaps eventually we'll see progress and it will be cleaned up, but for now it seems like they are just shifting dirt from one point to another with no measurable progress.
We wound our way through the town and up a hill, where a few completely intact houses sat looking down over their former neighbors. Here we met our contact, though we couldn't locate her at first because the people milling around the house didn't seem to know her name or the address we were seeking. Finally it turned out that we were indeed at the right place and that Ms. I was inside. She brought out a little dog, her ten year old daughter trailing behind. The dog, a brown mix that betrayed some Pomeranian blood when she began yapping at us, seemed healthy and lively when we met her, her fur a little matted. Her name was Cocoa.
Upon closer inspection, Cocoa showed a raw red egg-sized lesion on her lower belly, between her back legs. Ms. I told us that they were separated during the tsunami, at which time Cocoa was hurt. After it was over, they managed to find each other again. They have been living at the neighbor's house, but have been unable to take Cocoa to a vet as they have no car. They don't know where they'll end up, but have asked us to take care of Cocoa until they can find a place to live. It was an emotional goodbye, with some tears; Cocoa is ten years old and I imagine she's been a part of their family for awhile. She needs medical care though, and at the shelter she'll receive food, warmth, kindness, and medical treatment. I assured Ms. I that Cocoa would be gone just a little while, and as we pulled away, she said "Itterasshai" - "go and come back", or "see you when you get back".
We dropped off some dog food at a house with a hungry-looking dog chained outside on the edge of town, then began the long drive back to Niigata.