- Created on Tuesday, 15 November 2011 13:21
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For this trip, I traveled with three first-time volunteers Nick Heras, his wife Ai and mutual friend Konishi-san ("Konny"). All were friends from the local pub in Meguro - The Black Lion. This trip had been proposed one Saturday night when I went out to Musashi Koyama to have dinner and drinks. We met in a tiny upstairs room above a bar and sat on the floor to eat and drink. It was one of the most comfortable expereinces being with good friends in a funky part of town. Also with us were two other friends, Reno and Miho. During the casual talk, the idea of joining a volunteer trip came up and Nick, Ai and Konny all expressed and interest. Later I found out that Reno and Miho would have liked to have gone as well but Miho cannot travel in a car due to car sickness. As it happened, there was room for all of us on the trip scheduled for Nov 11th & 12th so off we all went. I was very happy that everyone actually turned up - sometimes, during a happy moment, people make all kinds of promises and promptly forget them but not this crew. Later I said much the same thing to Nick and his response was that you don't bail out on commitments of this type, it is too important.
Nick and I joined up in Asakusabashi to help load up one of the two trucks with water. As usual, we had to shift 2 tons of water from a Second Harvest (http://www.2hj.org) truck onto ours. In addition to the water we also had around 200 boxes of cup noodles and dried soup so our truck was jammed full - not an inch of space left over.
Nick, Ai, Konny and myself traveled in my wife's car which I had borrowed for the trip. The lasting memory of this trip was the completely ineffective navigation system in the car. Not only did it get the distances to the next turn wrong but many of the screen menus didn't respond to finger poking. Konny finally found a way of plotting the route by entering the phone number of a random ramen resaurant in Minamisoma but the navi was not aware of road blockages and plotted a route up the Joban Expressway which is not closed due to the Fukushima nuclear plant exclusion zone. We ended up taking the wrong route and had to drive a long way out of our way before finally getting back on to the Tohoku Expressway. Heading north, we finally made the rendezvous point with the second truck at Adatara Service Area at 2:30 a.m.
Luckily, Philip Duncan, leader of the pack and one of the drivers of the second truck had already inventoried the fruit and veg so we did not have to stop long at Adatara before heading off on the last leg of the journey into Minamisoma. Again the navi let us down instructing us to turn off onto a road that I had never been on before and hence knew it was suspicious. However, we let the navi guide us and after about 40 minutes of driviing along very narrow winding roads we came to a roadblock - there had been a mudslide ahead and the road was impassable. As we were consulting our iPhones for directions, the two trucks went hurtling past so we quickly followed them. Sure enough, another few kilometers along the road and we met a complete road blockage. Elliot, who was driving the first truck at the time, plotted a route on his navi device and off we all went in convoy. Elliot took us south along some of the smallest, winding roads I've ever come across in Japan but it was an adventure. Eventually we made it back onto the main road into Minamisoma and I sped off ahead not needing to wait for the trucks. We made it into Kashima Station at 5:30 a.m. and the trucks were just 15 minutes or so behind. A short nap (of sorts) then it was off to our first delivery.
We had threee locations to visit on this trip: #16 Yushin Grand (307 people), #17 Terauschi Tsukagu (384 people) and #18 Ushikawauchi-daiichi (242 people) - a total of 933 people. The deliveries themselves went very smoothly with nothing of note to report except for Ai who seemed to be humping all the heavy water at each location while the guys were shifting the lightweight cup noodle boxes. I joked with her later that she had done all the hard work to which she replied "That what I came here for isn't it?" Great attitude, Ai-san!
As with most deliveries, you never know exactly how many people will actually show up to take some food so it is important to keep a running tally during the day to make sure you know how much you have left going in to the second and third delivery sites. Saito-san, the main organiser of the local volunteers, had also warned us of many "rusu" households (rusu in Japanese means "away from home") - these are households who did not respond when the local vounteers visited to do a pre-delivery headcount. Saito-san urged caution on how much we handed out at the first location as we might be surprised later in the day.
My worksheet for the distribution
The toll relief certificate for the return trip. Relief from tolls for volunteer work is a big benefit saving each vehicle around JPY 10,000 per trip
We finished the distribution by 14:10 and, as usual, were treated to some lunch at Saito-san's house. By 15:00 we were making our way back to Tokyo but only by ignoring the navi - it tried to put us back on the coastal road which is blocked. I drove out to the Tohoku Expressway after which Nick took over. Back in Tokyo, we went to a stand-up bar in Azabu Juban and traded stories. Later we took some dinner at a ramen restaurant in Azabu Juban and then headed over to the Black Lion for a few beers before heading home. Konny, normally a taciturn fellow, was dancing in the pub and chatting away like no one had ever seen before. Several of the other customers commented - "I don't know what you've done to him but you've certainly done something" said one. A great trip that will have a lasting inpression on all of us and, from my perspective, whilst having been friends with Nick, Ai and Konny for some time, this trip, doing useful work together, will deepen and strengthen our friendship without doubt.
Many people in this picture whom I don't know - mostly the local volunteers. From Tokyo, back row in front of truck, red shirt - Rich Rivera, front row center - self, Nick Hera directly behind me, wife Ai to his left, front row green shirt, sunglasses - Elliot Hobgoblin, behind to right, pink shirt - Philip Duncan the trip leader, far right standing, Konny. Look at the blue sky! We were expecting cold rain!