Posted by William Grimm
While I was in Ishinomaki, I went with a Salesian Sister volunteering at the church that houses the Caritas volunteers working there to see a temporary burial site for victims of the tsunami.
The graves are on the grounds of a Buddhist temple about three or four blocks from the church. When we arrived, a group of Buddhist priests were chanting. It was the 49th day since the death of the people buried there, and in Japan special prayers are said on that day even in the Catholic Church.
The place was muddy and unattractive. Basically, trenches were dug, the bodies were placed in them and then they were covered with dirt. As bodies are identified and families are ready to claim them for cremation and funeral rites, the corpses are dug up. To facilitate the process, each burial is numbered with a signboard. Jumps in the numbering show where bodies have been exhumed.
As we walked around, I saw a few rows away a small cross. When we got closer, we saw that someone had tied two pieces of branch together to form a cross at grave number 245. On the cross was written, “Hallelujah! Mai Tanaka, age 23.” When we returned to the church, we found out that she was a parishioner. Apparently, her remains had been identified, but not yet removed.
Shortly after getting back to the church, a man came by. He was Brother Hidenori Takahashi, a 37-year-old Benedictine monk who was scheduled to begin seminary studies this month. His studies have been postponed for a year. He is a native of Onagawa, a fishing village just outside Ishinomaki. It used to have a population of about 10,000. Half of them died, including Brother’s mother and younger sister who were apparently washed away.
He was one of the earliest volunteers in Ishinomaki, since it enabled him to do something else while searching for his family members.
“My sister’s wrecked car was found in the hospital parking lot, 20 meters above sea level, but the tsunami was higher than that,” he said.
Brother said he has come to accept the truth that his mother and sister are lost forever.
“Even if their bodies were to wash up now, after more than a month there is no way to identify them. All I can do is entrust them to God.”
Brother mentioned that he has seen the tsunami hitting Onagawa on YouTube. Most of the footage of the tsunami itself doesn’t mention where it was taken, so I couldn’t be sure I found video from there. But, I did find a post-tsunami video taken from a car.
The first place the car stops is in front of the hospital, so perhaps one of those cars was Bro. Takahashi’s sister’s. One of the vacant areas that looks pretty clear and level was the middle school; it seems to have been scoured away, leaving only the foundation.