Warzone Japan 2011

Socks for Japan has completed 13 distributions of socks and care letters in Japan’s disaster zone, covering some 322 km (200 mi) of coastline rocked by the March 11 earthquake, slammed by the ensuing tsunami, and partly torched by fire.

On our many excursions, I’ve noticed first-time reactions of volunteers. Most people think they’re prepared for the devastation because they watched it on TV news or saw photos in a newspaper. That’s what I thought prior to my first distribution. The impact of the real place overwhelms everybody, however. Immersing yourself in the rubble, driving between the stacks of crushed cars and splintered houses, covering your mouth and nose to block out the stench of dead fish and old mud and other sources of miasma nobody cares to consider, is more than any news story can prepare a person to experience.

The common reaction is, “This is a warzone.” Everybody says so. I wrote in Drowning Hearts at Lady River on April 12:

It came as a shock to me that seawater gone angry enough inflicts as much damage as the firebombing of Dresden or the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. Onagawa, which means “Lady River” when translated literally, looks today the way Dresden and Hiroshima looked after their calamities.

In our past four distributions, I noticed that Onagawa isn’t alone. Many towns along Japan’s disaster coastline look like pictures of World War II and other conflicts. To highlight that, I collected 32 of my photos covering distributions in Natori and Iwanuma on April 20, Ishinomaki on April 24 and 27, and Minami Sanriku on May 1. I edited the photos to reflect their wartime mood.

Brace yourself, and join me on a journey through Warzone Japan 2011 to appreciate why Socks for Japan continues supporting survivors.

Wide open spaces from the ocean inland enabled the tsunami to sweep much of Natori and Iwanuma clean. It took all of our energy just to keep breathing as we drove along this road:

The coastal neighborhoods of Natori and Iwanuma appear bombed-out:

Among many other places, the tsunami broke through Ishinomaki’s retaining wall:

wiped out the frontage road:

and proceeded into town:

where the military now operates daily:



The heart of Ishinomaki’s devastation feels like it will never end. Roads are just paths scraped through mountains of ruined property. Rich people and poor people became equal in the wave, all their cherished possessions reduced to the same dross on mud:

In Minami Sanriku, the damage lies closer to the coastline, torturing survivors with frequent glimpses of the water that forever changed their lives — and ended the lives of their loved ones:

The main harbor and nearby downtown were hit hardest:

After the earthquake, officials rushed to the town’s disaster management center to announce emergency measures over a public address system. As they warned residents of the encroaching tsunami, it swamped the town more severely than anybody expected. The disaster management center itself succumbed to rising waters, with 20 of the 30 officials working inside it killed by the very danger they warned against. The mayor survived by shimmying up an antenna, still visible on the remains of the center:

Soldiers work everywhere in Minami Sanriku’s desolation:

Back in Ishinomaki, where heaven and hell collided two months ago:

a placard among cherry blossoms on a hillside overlooking the devastation expresses what may be humanity’s most plaintive wish, ever unfulfilled on this violent sphere we call home:

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4 Comments

  1. Dale Buckeridge
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    I look at these pictures every day and make sure my family and friends see them. Then I say, “Be thankful today for what you have”!

    • Posted May 5, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      I’ve noticed similar reactions among people involved in our project here, and people following us from afar. Realizing our fragility and how much of our lives depends on luck of the draw is the fast track to perspective. Thank you for mentioning it, Dale.

  2. Devan Paddock
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    Hi Jason!

    I’m trying to ship about 300 socks to you, but fedex is requiring some sort
    Of phone number to get through customs. Can you e-mail me with that info?
    Unfortunately because of this minor speedbump these won’t go out until first thing
    Tomorrow. Sorry for the delay!

    -Devan

    • Posted May 17, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      No problem. I emailed you the phone number.

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