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I Will Rise Again

by Shin'ichi Tanno
Japan

Mr. Tanno at workMr. Tanno (right) at his fish farm

I currently run my own fishery business in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture and am a Soka Gakkai men’s territory leader. Ishinomaki and its surrounding areas were catastrophically destroyed in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. 4,858 people lost their lives and 1,017 more people are still missing. The entire urban area was affected by the disaster, and 200 marine product processing factories based in the port of Ishinomaki were completely obliterated.

I, too, lost members of my family. My fishery was swept away and my house was also destroyed.

The morning after the earthquake, as I was frantically trying to care for evacuees at the Soka Gakkai Ishinomaki Peace Center, a fellow member, despite his badly injured leg, came to tell us the news that the Onagawa region had been "completely wiped out". The news sent shockwaves through my body. At that point, all phone signals as well as electricity were cut off. I desperately wondered if everyone I knew, including my younger sister and her family who lived in Onagawa town, was safe.

Ishinomaki CityIshinomaki City after the tsunami

After viewing what had once been Onagawa town from higher ground, I went there. The entire town had vanished. As I stumbled through the rubble, I wrote the names of people I encountered in my notebook so that later I could confirm their whereabouts. My sister’s house, a three-storied reinforced concrete building, had been smashed to pieces. In vain I shouted my sister’s name, but the echoes of my voice were simply absorbed by the rubble. As my search for my sister continued, I visited countless shelters and mortuaries where I had to look through thousands of photos of dead bodies. At these places, I met friends and other Soka Gakkai members who were also trying to locate their families. All I could do was offer a few words of encouragement, telling them to believe that they would be reunited with their loved ones.

On March 16, for the first time since the earthquake, the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper, was delivered to the culture center. When I read Mr. Ikeda’s message titled "Never be defeated! Have courage! Have hope!" that he had dedicated to the members of Tohoku a beam of hope penetrated my heart. Many people were so moved by the message that they read it again and again, crying as they did so.

Mr. TannoMr. Tanno (left) encouraging local people

For generations my family had been farming seaweed and oysters. After graduating from university, where I began practicing Nichiren Buddhism, most of my career was spent working as an intermediary for fishing fleets helping them to obtain necessary fishing rights. Two years ago, I was also appointed senior managing director of my sister’s fishery. My work entailed selling live sardines as bait to bonito fishermen, as well as farming juvenile fish which grow into silver salmon. But the business had been destroyed by the tsunami, and my sister and her husband who ran the company were still unaccounted for. My mother had also not been found.

Three months after the earthquake, four of my business partners, who own private individual fishing vessels, visited me. They informed me that they had already approached one of their clients, owner of several bonito fishing vessels, to ask him for support in the rebuilding of my business. Although the tsunami had effectively destroyed the fishing industry in Ishinomaki, I resolved to be the first to stand up for its reconstruction. We managed to convince a handful of fishing operators that were still up and running to team up with us, and some of nearby Kesennuma port’s remaining bonito fishing vessels were prepared to catch sardines for bonito bait. The bonito fishing season along the Pacific coastline of Tohoku was fast approaching, so we had to act quickly and work hard if we were to be successful.

Each day we rode 400 kilometers over the waves to catch the sardines. Finally, when the bonito season finished at the end of November, the total amount of bonito that had been caught by Kesennuma’s bonito fishermen was once again the highest in Japan, in spite of the enormous damage sustained by the earthquake and tsunami. I am proud to have been able to contribute, even just a little, to this success.

Meanwhile, I made a visit to our silver salmon farm located inland in Iwate Prefecture. At the time of the earthquake, the juvenile fish that were being farmed there measured a mere 1.5 cm, but I was pleased to find that they had grown well since the earthquake. My sister was devoted to this farming business and had painstakingly spent 25 years of her life building it up by herself. From far away, I felt as though I could hear her voice telling me that these fish were seeds of hope and that one day I must return them to the sea. In the face of growing pressure, I took charge of this business in October. It was around that time that my sister’s body was finally found. Her husband and my mother are yet to be found.

As a result of persistently striving to do our best, the fishery was able to successfully raise 52 tons of juvenile fish and, in November, they were safely handed over to the fish farms in the sea, where they are now growing steadily. These fish will be sold at the market in March 2012, exactly one year after the disaster. We, the people of Miyagi, have always been proud of the fact that 90% of silver salmon produced in Japan originates from our region, which is why, to us, these fish are the epitome of hope for the reconstruction and revitalization of our areas and businesses.

It goes without saying that the reconstruction of Ishinomaki cannot be achieved unless the fishing industry is also restored. Together with the members of Ishinomaki who are taking refuge in shelters both within the locality and throughout Japan, I am fully determined that every single one of us without exception shall live out lives of victory on behalf of the precious members who lost their lives.

[Adapted from an activity report shared at Soka Gakkai Agriculture and Fishery Department Annual Meeting, February 5, 2012; photos courtesy of Shin'ichi Tanno] 

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