Friday, February 17, 2012

the Funakoshi ladies

Last Saturday, Julia drove a few of us up to Funakoshi, a fishing village on the Tohoku coast, in Miyagi prefecture north of Onagawa, that was all but wiped out by the March 11 tsunami. A half dozen Or so local women have been meeting in the primary school building, on the third floor, where a wall clock is stuck at 3:23 pm and space heaters provide the only warmth, to make charms and necklaces out of bits of rubble- specifically Ogatsu stone, a beautiful slate, scavenged from among the village ruins. The pieces, hand painted and decorated with beads or braided yarn, are being sold to raise money for the rebuilding of the community. One of the ladies' sons also helps out. He painted the hawk on the necklace I chose for Dylan.

We spent a few hours there - the girls painting a few of the stones and, from what I could see, bringing some good cheer to the group. KT and I were on yarn duty - tying and plaiting the strands that were to hold the stone pendants. I never did quite get the knots to twist properly.

I was a much more successful shopper, purchasing quite a few of the finished pieces with the intention to sell them at triple the price to our friends in Tokyo and return all funds to the ladies. (I decided to sell most of them to myself - and to give them as gifts, etc.) Julia had been up to Funakoshi once before this, and she reupped her stash.

There's real revenue potential here, that's clear; lots of orders have come in, thanks to some publicity and support from the Ishinomaki NPO 'It's Not Just Mud' (see previous post). But the ladies haven't been aggressive about the pricing, and production averages around 20-30 pieces a day. So we're talking small scale. Still, what's going on in this place,  I think, is more about community preservation and morale. About sticking together, and being proactive. I should mention that all local children who attended the school where they meet have been relocated - on March 11, Funakoshi, pop. 350, only lost 9 of their residents.

I took this picture of Julia and her daughter Maegan from outside the school-turned-community center, which is behind me:

Me standing in front of the entrance to the school

Inside the school, peering out a third-story window, from where we sat with the ladies on tatami mats and ate lunch. Most of the buildings that had been destroyed by the tsunami have been torn down, lots cleared of debris. It's a start. (Apparently the plan is to rebuild the village on higher ground - behind the school there is a hill, and the structures there seem OK.)

 Ladies turning pieces of roof tile into art:

Quittin' time, around 4pm


To get to Funakoshi from Ishinomaki, where we were staying, we headed north then east, following the Kitakami river, then turned south to Ogatsu then back north, along twisting mountain roads.  I hope I get back there some day.

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