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A variety of initiatives by municipalities,
NGOs and local citizens are aimed at lifting the battered spirits of temporary
Among these is a unique, travelling program offered jointly
by Christian clergy and Buddhist priests, named “Café de Monk.”
As the name
suggests, Café de Monk is “staffed” by Buddhist and Christian clergy who
volunteer their time to offer a listening ear to the concerns of people
displaced by the tsunami.
Mr. Nduna’s guides Rev. Chihiro SAIGUSA and Rev. Shōei
ABE, who are directors of Tōhoku HELP, explain: “The word Monk in this name is a play on words: The Japanese word monku means complaints, so it signals a light-hearted invitation to temporary
housing residents to come and share their complaints about daily life in their temporary
On the day of Mr. Nduna’s visit (June 13)
Café de Monk had set up shop at one of Ishinomaki’s largest temporary housing
complexes, with over 200 units.
The “Café,” a large multi-purpose room with
tables and chairs, was filled with a lively mix of temporary residents (about
30 of them, young and old), perhaps 10 Zen monks, plus a handful of young language
students from the United States, all engaged in conversation.
At one table a
young monk offered origami lessons to a group of women. At the next table a
monk and one of the American students sat with a mother and her boy, helping
them to make a prayer bracelet with colored glass beads. The sight of so many
smiling people came almost as a shock.
One monk, who has attended the Café more
than 20 times, observed:
“The Café’s lighthearted name can raise eyebrows, to
be sure. But, as you can see here, it answers needs that fall outside the scope
of tasks fulfilled by municipal workers, young volunteers, or even trained
counselors. For some people—not everyone—the simple fact that we are monks or
ministers is a source of confidence and comfort. We are simply glad to be able
to stand with them through their long mourning.”
Nduna at the entrance to Café de Monk, with three monks du Café, Reverends Abe
(at right) and Saigusa (beside) of Tohoku HELP, and Noriko Lao (UMCOR). Behind
the group is a row of temporary housing units.
Leaving Rev. Nakazawa and Shizugawa behind,
John Nduna was taken South toward Ishinomaki city.
prefecture’s second-largest city, suffered the greatest loss of lives (3182
confirmed, 553 still missing) from the tsunami. Here, too, with some 7,300 temporary
housing units built in 130 locations, there is much concern for the spiritual
wellbeing of evacuated residents.
(Ishinomaki after the Tsunami. source; City of Ishinomaki website)
Here Rev. Nakazawa split his time between
temporary housing communities, where he sits with residents to hear their
concerns, and a temporary structure that has been named Shizugawa Christian
The trust that he has earned with survivors has enabled him to mediate
quarrels, which are common in the stress and tight quarters of temporary
housing, and to advocate on their behalves for needs that can and should be met
by government authorities.
The Center, for its part, has become a veritable hub
of local community life. This simple one-room facility, which has tables and
chairs for 20-30 people, stands on a residential plot whose owner, though not a
Christian himself, so appreciated Rev. Nakazawa’s work that he offered to lease
the land to him for 10 yen (US¢12) per month.
The Center offers a place of worship for part of each
Sunday, but serves primarily as a meeting place for volunteers, as an event
space for the broader community, as an after-school drop-in center for youth,
and as a tea-and-conversation house for people seeking respite from the stresses
and confines of their temporary housing units.
Nakazawa leads John Nduna and Noriko Lao (UMCOR) on a walk through Shizugawa’s
remains, near the Shizugawa Christian Center. (June 13)The blue post seen at frame left marks a
tsunami evacuation spot at 30 meters above sea level, but last year’s tidal
wave crested several meters above the top of this post.
Public authorities plan to carve terraces
out of the hills overlooking the devastated town site, where homes will be safe
from another tsunami, but this is expected to take another 5 years.
Nakazawa is concerned that the stress and despair that accompanies displacement
will lead to much more suffering in those 5 years. In addition to such problems
as domestic violence and suicide, there has also been a spike in “karō-shi”
among able-bodied persons who have literally worked themselves to death for
family and community.
The community’s painful awareness of this seldom-reported
after-effect of the tsunami was evident from the words chosen by several people
who waved to Rev. Nakazawa as he guided visitors through Shizugawa: “Please
take good care of yourself, Sensei (Reverend)!”