One of the many blessings of running my own accounting firm are the relationships that I build with people I would have never met otherwise. After running in the Republican primary for my congressional district last spring, I had yet another group of incredible new friends and partners. Through some of those new friends, I was put in touch with an American businessman living in Japan who had an absolutely incredible story of how the recent tsunami had affected his life and the lives of those closest to him.
Phil Foxwell grew up and has since raised his family in Japan, maintaining a summer home in the rolling hills of a sleepy Japanese fishing town called Shichigahama, which lies northeast of Sendai, the city hardest hit by the tsunami. Set in an idyllic, pine wooded valley surrounded by hills on three sides, it was a refuge for harried Tokyo-ites wishing to escape the summer heat. For Phil, a trip to Shichigahama is more than just a getaway, it’s a family reunion. For years, he has invested in the aging community, many of whom he has known since his childhood and grown up alongside. They are his friends, and his family. This is his first-hand account of his journey to find what he was certain would be more death and desolation, but ended as something very different indeed.
This is an incredible story of God’s provision and protection in a time when people question how God could let such a thing happen. This is a story that has motivated me to go above and beyond the ordinary in supporting those who have lost their home and livelihood, or even a loved one. I want to encourage you to get involved in the rebuilding of Japan as they suffer through what is described as the most devastating natural disaster in the modern era, upwards of 20,000 lives lost and $250 billion in damages. In addition, please pray for the survivors and their families, and also the rescue workers who are doing what they can with scarce resources and constant threat of radiation exposure. Japan is in dire need of a miracle. Read this incredible story by Phil Foxwell to see one that already happened.
Those who know me and know our family, understand that I absolutely needed to confirm the well-being of my Japanese aunties, uncles, and brothers in Shichigahama (“7 Beaches”), the little peninsula on the Pacific coast that we love so much. I finally got going Sunday evening in my trusty 4WD Pajero with 100 extra liters of gasoline and lots of supplies. A Dutch television crew begged for a lift north, and to tell you the truth I initially took them along because they had a sat phone and press passes, which I thought might help with some road blocks. But I have to say, after the last 40 – 50 hours, that Hans and Han have become good friends, and I wish them well as they uplink to their station in Holland today and then take a direct flight to Amsterdam from Tokyo.
The main highway north from Tokyo is closed except for emergency, military and transport vehicles, needing a special police permit, so we took the local roads north, making our way around cracked bridges, etc. I was surprised about the damage along the way, with all the media attention on the coastline, but a lot of Japan is suffering and needing rebuilding in addition to the severe devastation along the coast.
After many hours, we made our way across the south side of Sendai through Natori to Tagajo, trying to take roads furthest from the coast but even in areas that you would never imagine as being close to the ocean, there was severe devastation, and we had to wind our way through thousands of cars and trucks piled on top of each other along the roadway. First I saw the marina that we frequently visit in the summer with boat and jet skis. Though it’s away from the coast and on a back river, the water level must have increased so drastically that the whole place is a wreck. On Shichigahama peninsula, we stuck to the high road. I saw later that the entire road around the coast, 6-7 miles or so, was covered with debris and impassable.
Driving over the hill and getting my first look at the community where my home and friends are was an overwhelming experience that is hard to describe and I had to pull over to catch my breath. All of our friends’ houses were scattered around in pieces, but most of the parts of the houses were simply gone, and debris was everywhere, from the edge of the water on up. I looked over at our house up the hill through the trees, and it was there, but seemed to be moved from where it normally sat. I later understood that that was because of the way the land had washed away at the end of the beach.
My only plan for going north was to confirm the status of our dear friends and to evaluate what I really could do on a subsequent trip, but seeing that my own house still stood was unexpected and comforting. After seeing the news footage of the power and depth of the waves, I really believed that even if our house had not been knocked over, that the ground would have been washed out from underneath and it would have collapsed. The power of the wave hitting the 50 – 60 foot cliff face in front of the house blew an old favorite tree sticking out of the top of the cliff over the top of the house, into the parking area behind it.
At this point, I hadn’t seen any people at all, but looking back at the neighborhood of our dear friends, I suddenly saw a couple looking through the debris. I started back toward them and found that it was the daughter and son-in-law of the Hidemasa Endo family, our good friends. There was a lot of hugging for Japan, I can tell you! One interesting thing about the last few days is that all social constraints are gone; there is no posturing now that life is completely changed.
I immediately asked them about their parents and other family members, and they told me that all were safe and up the hill a ways where they were setting up a campsite. It was a wonderful reunion and I don’t know how to describe it, after the first sight of the community and wreckage, and not even imagining that any of them could be alive any more. At that point, I checked other shelters, and amazingly instead of just finding names on a list, as I had greatly hoped for, I found the actual people and had wonderful times of reunion. For a couple of days, I got all of the food out of our own house and all I had brought with me and passed it around. I got all of our old blue tarps and helped Hidemasa build a nice new house out of old scaffolding pipes and blue tarps (yes I have a thing for blue tarps!)
During these hours, I just had to hike over to our neighboring fishing villages of Hanabuchi and Shobudahama, on either side of us, where I had spent so much time growing up, and my kids as well. The devastation is beyond imagination or even computer graphics in the worst disaster movie. The places where many houses had been were simply smooth without even a single toothpick left on them, and other places looked like a giant mass of shredded wheat: a jumble of houses, boats, buildings, and human belongings, and cars jammed in every conceivable position – upside down, on top of each other, inside houses, and on top of walls—the pictures just simply don’t give the full impact, but they’re a start.
Walking along the coastline, the only handful of people that I met all looked like they were in their 80s and it was good to talk to them and encourage each other. I think most of the population of the peninsula has absolutely no desire to leave the hills to go down to look at their coastal communities, with the constant tremors and frequent aftershocks, after the devastation they have seen and escaped.
I’ll never know why, but in 1 huge pile of debris (Anderson Cooper said 10 feet deep, but that doesn’t even come close!) I pulled out a broken wooden board you can see in a picture (zelkova wood—my favorite!) and painted on it in Japanese kanji was “Shu wa waga no …” and the next part of a kanji looked like “michi.” “The Lord is my way.” Japan just doesn’t have signs like that, let alone the one in a million chance of finding the broken piece in the piles and piles of devastation. I am convinced it is a message from the Lord and the message is obviously clear.
I have to say that while driving north for many hours, my hugely optimistic assumption was that I would find names of some of my friends on a list, showing they had registered at a shelter. But after finding the actual people in just two days – a couple dozen of our close friends – I found a huge sense of renewed hope. I believe, that while this is a devastating moment in the history of Japan, and I would never for a moment downplay the tragedy for so many, and the loss for so many more, that this can be a time of renewal and in many ways, new life. Japanese are resourceful, resilient people in any circumstance, and I believe the world will see an example of courage and determination in the months ahead, and with it amazing Grace.
With the fourth explosion at the nuclear power plant, and plans to only be north for a couple of days, not even being able to reach my wife with the sat phone, it was time to head back to Tokyo last night. This time, I went to the Shichigahama town office, which has become a crisis center of huge proportions, and essentially begged for the official permit to take the expressway home. I know a number of these officials from the last 10 – 15 years and they agreed to give me the official permit to put in the windshield of the Pajero. Heading out of town through the debris, we first of all had to find an open entry to the expressway, which we eventually did, and the police guard allowed us in. At that point, the little hand-held TV/GPS which got reception once in a while, was giving news of further deterioration of the nuclear plant, but we decided to drive straight south anyway, instead of through the snow of the mountain passes over to the Japan Sea side. So we headed for Tokyo, with no worries at all about speed traps!
If you have any interest in helping out, the next month or so would actually be dangerous to be in the toughest areas, but after that, there will be an infinite amount of clearing and rebuilding that needs to take place. Get in touch with crashjapan.com to see how you can help. Thank you for your prayers and concern for the people of Japan.
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