Some of us finally got our hands dirty last weekend. We bussed up to Iwaki on the east coast to help clear up a gutted marine school made unusable by the tsunami. Five months of people volunteering – with some Japanese having taken leave from work in order to stay on site for weeks at a time – appeared to have hardly indented the damage, to an outsider on her first visit. Understanding that a lot of progress had already been made along this stretch of coast, which was itself much less of a victim than northern Miyagi Prefecture, made the many pockets of complete ruin along the seafront disquieting in its seeming state of untouched aftermath. This seafront was a small cliff edge of some depth down to the water: march’s wave had risen high enough to crest the cliff wall, and flatten two-storied homes for a stretch inland.

Further down the coast, the cliff edge sloped down to water level. Our location for the day was a secondary marine school, sitting just beyond the sea and sand, separated by a broken concrete tsunami wall. In our group of JETs and locals, thirty volunteers were to clear the guttering outlining the school’s perimeter. The tsunami had pulled in sand to carpet the grounds and fill the gutters, embedding within it glass from the windows, parts of the tsunami and school walls, and an array of sea creatures who had, over the six months since, made home there. Over the school grounds were many small mountains of sandbags: a lot of work had already taken place; but again, the amount still left to do was disquieting. Thirty people were onsite from 10.30am to 15.00, and yet only the guttering was managed. Walking through the empty rooms – seeing the tsunami’s date still written on chalk boards; a suit still hanging in an open locker; being told that the principal’s car, which had been lodged down the corridor, had just been removed – it was evident that people hadn’t yet had the opportunity to address the damage inside. One school, having had volunteers working throughout their days over six months, maintains most of it’s wreckage.

Whilst visiting a dismantled site for the first time, I wondered – and still do – how I intend to carry out the research for my poetry blog. I think I had envisaged myself upholding a degree of objectivity in being an observer of such destruction in order to write it. That assumption now makes me feel a little queasy. The subject matter deserves respect it has not wholly received from the majority of Western press, and nor, sometimes, from people living here in Fukushima and wider Japan. Who am I to be so objective? What else can an unaffected, unrelated westerner be? Perhaps working that out is going to be my challenge. ‘Hmmmmm.’