THERE WERE SO MANY highlights from this trip it’s hard to narrow them down. We had a great crew that all worked together to make this trip happen, so without each of them none of this would of been possible. Our largest debt of gratitude must be given to our friend and fellow paddler Yoshihiro Takahashi for not only letting us abuse his van throughout the trip, but for his tolerance and kindness of hauling around 6 Americans for 17 days.
The trip started May 9th with a drive to LA followed by a flight to Narita, Tokyo on the 10th. The team (myself, Yoshi, Cody Howard, Darin McQuoid, Ryan Knight, Nick Calderone, and Brandy Suppi) quickly hit up the Otaki slide that Cody ran on his first trip kayaking in Japan. From there we jetted up to Minakami for a few days boating the Tone, Takarogawa, and a little drainage ditch creek that I pitoned my brains out on. After spending a few days in that area we headed north where Yoshi fired off the first descent of the Phoenix, a 40+ footer with a shallow landing, which he styled with pure ninja steeze.
At this point we were very close to the zone that got hit hardest by the tsunami (just north of Sendi). With Yoshi’s help we decided it would be a good time to volunteer with the clean up efforts taking place over 100+ miles of eastern Japans coastline. You see the photos, you see the video, but nothing can really paint the picture of destruction like being there.
We checked into RQ (one of the organizations sending out volunteers) and got set up for a day of cleaning up styrofoam from a oyster packing plant destroyed by the tsunami. We spent probably 8+ hrs breaking up styrofoam and putting it into rice bags to be utilized for insulation.
Later in the day we were informed that the road we were cleaning up was on the way to the local elementary school. At the end of the day we got back to RQ and it really hit me how little we had done, a small drop in a large ocean of need. We returned our gear (boots, gloves, jackets) and outside RQ we were approached by an older Japanese woman who spoke very little English. She grabbed each one of our hands, looked us firmly in the eye and said “thank you.”
Just seeing foreigners out there volunteering was a huge gesture in her eyes, while in my mind all I could focus on was how miniscule our contribution was. It was empowering feeling that gratitude and interpreting the situation from another perspective, realizing that she saw people from around the world coming to help Japan in a time of need, even if it was for only a day. What I took away from that experience was that no matter how miniscule the donation or gesture every little bit helps Japan get closer to a fresh start. If you are in the position to donate to American Red Cross Japan, every little bit helps.