I don’t know if there’s a hierarchy of hospitality in Japan but, for me, being invited to use someone’s bath is pretty high up there. Tonight, myself and Tony are enjoying the warmth and hospitality offered to us by Ando-san and his family here in the small fishing community of Kyubunhama on the western coast of the Ojika peninsula. Tony’s been here before but it’s my first time to meet them and I’ve been touched by how warm and welcoming they’ve been to us, a couple of fuzzy foreigners with a half-baked plan to hold a festival on their doorstep. The bath was very welcome because Ando-san – a grandfather – took us on some hikes along the rugged coastline that, with the summer humidity, had us sweating.
Ando-san comes from a long line of fishermen, a family occupation he has continued all his working life, as does his own son. But while the younger Ando is a man of few words, his father is friendly and chatty, a man of action with one eye fixed on the future. Like many oyster fishermen along the Pacific coast of Tohoku, the tsunami in March dealt a potentially fatal blow to his livelihood. But almost immediately he took action, contacting the company that supplies the special equipment needed for oyster harvesting and asking them to put aside a supply for his community. When I asked him this evening what percentage of the region’s oyster fishing industry had been hit by the disaster, he didn’t hesitate in saying, “100%.” But his quick action ensured that Kyubunhama was the first town to get their oysters back in the water, providing the spark for other nearby communities to quickly do the same.
Thus it came about that when we were looking for a local person with a can-do attitude to help us get a cycling festival off the ground on the Ojika peninsula we looked to Ando-san for advice. He was more than happy to show us around the many spots on the peninsula that would provide a dramatic scenic backdrop for any event. But it came to pass that we took him up on his offer to host our festival on his own doorstep, because we felt that we want this event to be about people and community as much as it is about cycling and scenic beauty. And so it was decided that we would have a camping site in a small orchard belonging to Ando-san’s cousin, and would make good use of the patches of land cleared of tsunami debris. Our festival will bring a small amount of revenue into the community, but hopefully that is just the start because much more is needed. The government scheme to provide day-labor payments for local people to carry out the cleanup effort continues only through the end of this month. But it will be several years before the people of this area return to anything close to the life they knew.
Kyubunhama is a small community that numbered only around 170 people even before the tsunami. The town was blessed in that it lost only one person to the forces of nature on that fateful day. But the damage was extensive and much of the population was dispersed to evacuation centers throughout the region. Much of that community is on the verge of coming back together, as temporary housing units will be completed in just a few days, just around the corner from Ando-san’s house, and some 37 households will be able to return to Kyubunhama. It is our hope that the first Tohoku Cycling Festival will be a rallying point for this small town, a chance to express themselves as a community. They may have been displaced from their own homes and thus unable to offer a bath or a bed as Ando-san has done today, but hospitality is not about bricks and mortar, wood and tiles.
If participants in the Cycling Festival enjoy anything like the hospitality that we have enjoyed this weekend, it will be a wonderful event indeed.