Red Cross-supported train line connects community

By Francis Markus, IFRC

Masao Hanokizawa, 84, is on his way to the hospital for a minor eye operation today. He doesn’t own a car these days, so taking the train is the best option for trips to the nearest main town for medical care or for things he can’t buy in the local shops.

“It’s only a ten minute walk from the station to the hospital, so it’s very convenient,” says the retired timber merchant. He also still works occasionally as a tour guide, explaining how his area was hit by a devastating tsunami caused by the MeijiSanriku Earthquake in 1896, which wiped out 20 per cent of the town’s population. “After that, the regulations about building safer houses were rigorously enforced, so in the 2011 tsunami there was only one death in the town.

“The area is recovering well,” he says, although he admits that he hasn’t seen much of the situation in surrounding towns. But he does sometimes go to Tokyo on his own to visit his grandchild.

 

Kuwait funds through Red Cross

This railway line, which snakes gently through pine forests, small villages with traditional Japanese tiled roofs and past quiet bays, was reopened last April, funded by the Kuwait government through the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Among the other passengers on a weekday morning is at least one more elderly woman visiting the hospital, a resident from one of the prefabricated housing settlements going into town to the shops and some high school girls going to a crammer.

“I used to take this line when I was in high school,” says 34-year-old Chigusa Okada, as she cradles her young son. Now she’s moved to another prefecture, but today she’s revisiting the railway with her parents and grandmother.

They feel the area’s recovery after the tsunami is taking time, but the reopening of the railway – a 26 kilometre stretch is now running, with another 19 to resume operation in April this year – is a symbol of its return to normality.

Reconstruction never fast process

Reconstruction is never going to be a fast process, said Shoichi Kumagai, Deputy Director of Operations at the Sanriku Railway Company. “I attended several meetings about rebuilding new housing and there were so many different points of view that it takes a long time for everybody’s views to be taken into account.”

As the railway moves to resume operations, though, another important step has been taken on the journey back towards restoring a sense of normal life to this part of the Tohoku coastline.

Which is just as well for retiree Mr Hanokizawa, because he has to be at the hospital again tomorrow.