Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs – 50-41

I’m in the Japan Times today with one of my favorite Bilingual articles in a long time: “Enka gives lessons in Japan’s unattainable love.”

I don’t remember the first time I learned the word 演歌 (enka), but it was likely the summer of 2002 when I was on a Rotary internship in Okayama. Several members of the Rotary Club were responsible for organizing our activities, and they would take us out at night to all manner of snack bars across the city. We sang American songs, drank beer, ate 柿ピー (kaki pii, peanuts and crackers), and listened to them sing Japanese songs. I have very distinct memories of two of them performing 旅姿三人男 (Tabi sugata sannin otoko, Three Men in Traveling Clothes).

Gradually, over the course of two months, a few of the songs made their way into our heads, and at our farewell dinner I performed 長崎は今日も雨だった (Nagasaki wa kyō mo ame datta, Nagasaki Was Rainy Again Today).

I went home with an Ishihara Yujiro CD and an Uchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five CD, and I listened to them over and over, especially once I got my first iPod in 2006 when I was on the JET Program. I also picked up a few other songs here and there, listening to friends and town employees sing while on the JET Program, and recently I’ve been doing カラオケ勉強会 (karaoke benkyō kai, karaoke “study meetings”) with coworkers in Chicago. My repertoire is only decent, but I like what I can do.

In an effort to learn more about enka for the JT article, I took a look at the Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs. This is a list that floats around the internet on several different sites and is supposedly based on Oricon data. Some of the sites have disclaimers at the bottom that it may not be accurate, but it’s interesting and helpful at the very least. I watched all 50 and wrote up my thoughts. I’ll post ten of them each day this week in descending order, starting today. Each write-up will include my toasty hot take, a difficulty rating, and a link to a “permasearch” on YouTube. Many of the music videos for these songs will likely be taken down for copyright violations, but you can use the permasearch link to search for the songs on YouTube, which will hopefully reveal new versions or at least covers by amateurs.

Without further ado, here are 50 through 41:

50. 雨の慕情 (Ame no bojō, Yearning in the rain), 八代亜紀 (Yashiro Aki) – 1980

Quick Take: The narrator of the song pleads with the rain to bring her the man (well, not technically a man, but an いい人[ii hito, nice person]) she misses. This is a nice song for language learners. There are lots of simple adjectives (憎い, 恋しい, 嫌い) used in repetition and the great example of of imperative in the chorus 雨雨降れ降れもっと降れ (ame ame hure hure motto fure, Rain rain, fall fall, fall more and more). Overall the language is relatively simple. As with many Japanese songs, Yashiro has very specific dance moves that go along with the chorus.

Difficulty: 4. Pretty straightforward. If I was a woman or had a higher voice, I might be singing this song regularly.

49. とまり木 (Tomarigi, Barstool/perch), 小林幸子 (Kobayashi Sachiko) – 1980

Quick Take: You know this song is going to be great from the title alone, which means barstool/perch. As you can tell from the video, it’s about a woman sitting at her barstool, wanting to follow after a person who won’t face her. It’s got some great lines like お酒でごまかす / このさびしさを (Osake de gomakasu / kono sabishisa o, I’ll conceal it with liquor, this sadness) that help show an inverted direct object. Great song.

Difficulty: 7. Some definite 小節 (kobushi, undulating melodic ornamentation or embellishment) present, but it’s not over the top.

48. なみだ恋 (Namida-goi, Tearful Love), 八代亜紀 (Yashiro Aki), 1973

Quick Take: I’m not sure you can get a simpler yet more powerful enka title unless you dig deep into the archives (酒は涙か溜息か, for example?): tearful love. The song is set in the back alleys of Shinjuku…in the rain…with the blossoms of flowers (presumably cherries?) falling. This is Japanese soul music. According to enka, the best (but saddest) love is illicit love which requires you to 忍び逢う(shinobiau, meet surreptitiously), especially if it involves rain or (in the case of Ishihara Yujiro) 夜霧 (yogiri, night fog). Yashiro is notable as the first female enka singer to have seven top 10 singles on the Oricon charts. Japanese Wikipedia notes that she was uncomfortable with her “husky” voice at first but gained confidence after hearing American singer Julie London.

Difficulty: 8.5. Yashiro breaks out more of the kobushi in the song than she did in 雨の慕情.

47. 流恋草 (Haguresō, Caught Lovesickness), 香西かおり(Kōzai Kaori), 1991

Quick Take: This is another powerful song of loneliness: A woman, presumably in the countryside, is left on her own (perhaps her partner goes out often?). Because he’s the only person she knows in the town, she’s lonely and crying. It’s the second instance we see of a line similar to 心はかくせない (kokoro wa kakusenai, I can’t hide my soul). It also features the nice contrast between あなたが欲しい (anata ga hoshii, I want you) and あなたを許せない (anata o yurusenai, I can’t forgive you), showing how divided her feelings are as well as the frequent karaoke encounter of anata. Some other great enka lines include: 悲しみがこぼれます/ ひとりじゃ暮らせない (kanashimi ga koboremasu / hitori ja kurasenai, My sadness spills over / I can’t live alone), and the ever useful お酒ください (osake kudasai, alcohol please).

This version on YouTube also has an amazing introduction and features a great set and an Akita pup biting at Kōzai’s fingers.

Difficulty: 6. Some minor kobushi, but nothing over the top. Very accessible lyrics.

46. よこはま・たそがれ (Yokohama tasogare, Yokohama Twilight), 五木ひろし (Itsuki Hiroshi), 1971

Quick Take: Leave it to the first man on the list to sing the laziest song so far: this is basically a list of different evocative karaoke words (kiss, lingering scent, cigarette smoke, Blues, whistling, etc) followed by the chorus あの人は行って行ってしまった (ano hito wa itte itte shimatta, That person has gone, gone away). Apparently this shouldn’t be a surprise: Itsuki went through three failed stage names before breaking it big with this hit. His Japanese Wikipedia page is curiously extensive. [Stroking chin emoji] It’s worth tracking down a version of Itsuki singing this in his prime to understand the effect he must have had on audiences.

Difficulty: 3. Some minor kobushi, but this is a pretty great (if somewhat lame) song for beginners.

45. 長良川艶歌 (Nagaragawa enka, Nagara River Enka), 五木ひろし (Itsuki Hiroshi), 1984

Quick Take: Here we are with Itsuki again. This song is much stronger than the previous. Sounds like the narrator is staying at a lodging alongside a river with someone he’d like to be with, a traveller, who’s gone in the morning. Lots of good あなたing in this song, which then goes on to get qualified by some nice phrases like すがってみたい人 (sugatte mitai hito, someone I’d like to follow) and 私を泣かす人 (watashi wo nakasu hito, someone who makes me cry). There are also some poetic lines like 窓に夜明けの風が泣く (Mado ni yoake no kaze ga naku, The dawn wind cries at the window).

One interesting point: note the use of 艶歌 instead of 演歌 in the title. There’s no Yahoo Chiebukuro post for this unfortunately, but there is an Oshiete Goo post, which notes that 艶歌 was used to describe the romantic content of songs whereas 演歌 came from earlier political protest songs. Christine Yano talks about this in her book but doesn’t use kanji, so I have to assume that this is the other character she’s talking about.

Difficulty: 9. This is one of those songs that will sound off if you don’t place the stress and kobushi on each word appropriately.

44. 箱根八里の半次郎 (Hakone hachiri no Hanjirō, Eight-ri Hanjirō of Hakone), 氷川きよし (Hikawa Kiyoshi), 2000

Quick Take: This is an epic song that launched Hikawa Kiyoshi’s career and rejuvenated enka as a genre. The alliteration in the title and the callback to classic images of the Japanese countryside are powerful. I have trouble deciphering some of the lyrics, to be honest, but all analysis of the song mentions 股旅物 (matatabimono, wandering life of a gambler), an enka category that hadn’t been sung in a while, and it’s clear that the title character is a shabby, unreliable guy. The dense vocabulary of the song contrasts with the simplicity of the サビ (sabi, hook) – やだねったら、やだね (yada nettara, yada ne, literally “If I say I don’t like it, I don’t like it” although maybe closer to “If I say I don’t wanna, I won’t”?). An interesting Japanese blog post calls the lightness of this song a response to the だらしなさ (darashinasa, slovenliness) of the Heisei era.

You can also see/hear in the video that there are plenty of Kiyoshi fans who love his style as well.

Difficulty: 11. This one goes to 11. Hikawa has mad kobushi skills and a soaring voice. I’ve heard this one imitated poorly too many times, and I may have perpetrated one or two imitations myself. You’ve been warned.

43. むらさき雨情 (Murasaki ame nasake [?], Purple Rain Sadness), 藤 あや子 (Fuji Ayako), 1993

Quick Take: This is a lovely song of unrequited love colored by the purple rain from the title. The narrator won’t follow her love but still has feelings for and memories of him. It’s full of karaoke words like にじむ (nijimu, blur) and しみつく (shimitsuku, stained in). And we can’t forget the absolute classic 未練 (miren, lingering affection/attachment/regrets): むらさき雨、雨に / 遠くかすむ町 / 訪ねた女の未練でしょうか (Murasaki ame ame ni / tōku kasumu machi / tazuneta onna no miren deshō ka, In the purple rain, rain / a misty town in the distance / is this the longing of a woman visiting?).

Difficulty: 4. Pretty straightforward with just some minor kobushi. A very clean and clear karaoke song. What’s not to like.

42. 愛のままで… (Ai no mama de…, Just as love…), 秋元順子 (Akimoto Junko), 2008

Quick Take: This is the most recent hit on the top 50, and perhaps not surprisingly, this song launched Akimoto into the Kōhaku Uta Gassen for the first time in 2008, the oldest debut at 61 years old. To my ear it sounds like a pretty standard love song, a nice one, but nothing too special to recommend it other than some typical karaoke imagery: キャンドル (kyandoru, candle), 偶然 (gūzen, coincidence), 奇跡 (kiseki, miracle). It is notable for the first appearance of 愛しい (itoshii, dear), in this inverted phrase: 他人(だれ)かと比較る幸せなんていらない (dare ka to kuraberu shiawase nante iranai, I don’t need the pleasure of being compared with someone) / あなたの視線が愛しくあれば (anata no shisen ga itoshiku areba, If I have your dear gaze).

Difficulty: 3. A couple of potentially difficult stresses, but the language is pretty accessible and the voicing not so challenging. This one feels like it could be a fun one for many.

41. ふたり酒 (Futari zake, Sake for Two), 川中美幸 (Kawanaka Miyuki), 1980

Quick Take: Now that’s some fucking enka! I had a feeling I would like this one from the title alone, and the very first line sealed it for me and also does a good job of summarizing the song: 生きてゆくのが辛い日はお前と酒があればいい (ikite yuku no ga tsurai hi wa omae to sake ga areba ii, When days are rough, I’m fine if I have you and alcohol). Kawanaka apparently made a name for herself with this song after failing with a few other singles. I really like the video that I’ve linked—it definitely shows how enka has been used to define Japanese identity. (If the video happens to be down, it showed a couple working at a sushi restaurant, some shots at a fish market, and a visit to a shrine.)

Difficulty: 7. This song is sneaky difficult. There’s more kobushi in there than appears to be in the studio version.

Cool Word – やけ酒


I have another column in the Japan Times today: “Drinking in Japan: Sober words to help you socialize.” It’s a fun column with some of the words you might encounter at a drinking party with coworkers…and an equally useful set that might help you avoid such a drinking party – not exactly an easy thing to do in Japan.

Sadly I don’t have the artwork I wanted to include with this post. When I was studying abroad, I had a crush on this girl in the international exchange club. I never had much of a chance to get to know her or even interact with her all that much, but there was one time when we talked and she drew me a very simple cartoon vocab lesson. She drew two people drinking together and labeled it サシ飲み and a sad person drinking alone and labeled it やけ酒.

やけ酒 is one of those words that has such a specific usage that it generally draws laughs when used as hyperbole. I haven’t ever really had much of an occasion to drink away my sorrows, to be honest, but it’s fun to pretend sometimes. Two Saturdays ago, my San Antonio Spurs lost Game 3 of their series against the Dallas Mavericks in devastating fashion: 37-year-old Vince Carter hit a last-second corner three to end the game. My Japanese coworker texted me: “I’m sorry. Vince made a miracle shot!”

I texted back: “今夜はやけ酒です(ㄒ.ㄒ)”

His response was, “「やけ酒」is good word (笑)”

So, yes, use it for laughs, use it for real. Hopefully the former and not the latter.

As I was getting ready to write this post, I looked for that cartoon that the girl had drawn for me ten years ago, but I wasn’t able to track it down. I have two file folders of loose photos and letters, and I was hoping it was tucked away in there. Alas. It still might be in a book somewhere, but it’s likely I threw it away.

Which turns out to be appropriate…somewhat. Apparently there are kanji for やけ酒, and they look like this:


I’m not exactly a kanji master, but those look like ateji to me. Literally you have self (自) + throw away () + liquor (酒). The first two are a compound where 自 is the direct object and 棄 is the verb: “throw away/abandon yourself.”

The real pronunciation looks more evident from this compound: 自暴自棄 (じぼうじき). Very cool stuff – check out the Japanese definition here to see if you can understand it, and then take a look at the English here if it’s difficult.

The Spurs lost again tonight (Friday, 5/2), and I can’t sleep so I wrote this post. I’ll save the self-destructive drinking for tomorrow night.

Collabo-Ramen – 七彩

In April, Tokyo Ramen Street expanded to eight stores. The original four are still there (although Keisuke now serves a crab miso rather than the past lobster miso) along with four new spots. Brian and I checked out 七彩 (Shichisai), which serves a Kitakata style ramen – a light shoyu or shio soup with amazing chashu pork:

CollaboRamen – Shichisai from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

For three years I lived in Fukushima Prefecture about thirty minutes away from Kitakata. I ate in famous Kitakata shops a number of times, but it never really made an impact on me until I tried Shichisai. Sure, I noticed the pork tasted great, but until Brian showed me what to look for in different bowls, I always erred on the side of miso and went for hearty, savory bowls of Hokkaido style ramen.

I was also intimidated by the huge amount of pork that some chashu-men bowls offer. Shichisai has the perfect amount of pork on its 喜多方肉そば – not too much, not too little – and the soup was light and delicious – I finished the whole bowl, which is a rarety for me.

One of the neat parts about this shop is that there are windows into the kitchen area, so you can watch them cook while you wait.

Brian ran into some guys from the Tōno, Iwate-based Zumona Brewery at the Daimaru department store giving out samples of their German-style beers. After the earthquake, a group of twenty-one Japanese craft breweries created their own relief effort under the title “Re-Fermenting Japan.” Illustrator, author, and overall Japan beer guru Hiroyuki Fujiwara created the slogan and the graphic that’s being used on posters and bottles.

Sasaki-san, the Zumona brewer, will be at Daimaru until Tuesday, June 28th, so be sure to drop by to try some out and pick up a few bottles. We covered the basement of Daimaru in a past Collabo-Ramen video – they’ve got a decent selection.

Video Introduction to All Hands Project Tohoku

Former Google employee and All Hands Volunteer Ryo Chijiiwa gave a talk at Google Japan before he flew home late last week. He starts out with a quick introduction to his path to volunteering (which includes a very interesting look at the hut he built in northern California) and then moves on to some of the activities that All Hands has been doing in Ofunato on Project Tohoku. Highly recommended viewing.

Day 10 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

Last day in Ofunato. I went with Keith and two other guys to take up the floor on a small house and disinfect the soil underneath with EM spray. The house was interesting. It was a small wooden house with only two rooms – a bedroom and a storage room. Very old. So old that the boards of the house had dried up and brittled into a gray color. At first I thought it was connected to a newer structure whose occupants were giving us instructions, but actually it was an entirely separate building. The resident was gone for the day. The newer building was just built in a way that wrapped around the older building. The gap between the two couldn’t have been more than six inches.

We removed everything from the bedroom and took up two boards to get a look under the floor. Because the boards were so old, we decided to rake the mud from outside of the house rather than risk breaking any of the floor. Underneath the house was a treasure chest of old wood and bamboo, possibly from when the house was first built fifty or sixty years ago. Once we dragged all of the stuff out, we raked a bit of the mud, sprayed the EM disinfectant, and then moved on to the newer structure which had actually taken more water during the tsunami. The front room of the building had about a foot or so of water, so we removed the boards from part of the front room and sprayed underneath a hallway. We also had to go back and spray a small additional bit of the older house.

We managed all that in the morning, so in the afternoon we joined up with the team working the ditches. The ditch team was an appropriate way to end my time with All Hands – that’s what I did my first day. The team has made significant progress since that day. They are within a block or two of the local NTT building – much closer than when I first got here.

Keith and Norm, an older Scottish/Engishlman, were racing through some of the ditches, and we really made a lot of progress in the short time we were there. Supposedly our ditch digging and canal cleaning have made quite an impression on the local authorities. They’ve asked All Hands to do 4km more of the ditches – 2km on either side of a road.

I gave a short farewell at the evening meeting, and we hung around the Sakari Base drinking beers for a little while before walking back to the Fukushi no Sato Center.

Although I’m leaving tomorrow (after I spend the morning doing housekeeping at the Fukushi no Sato Center), Project Tohoku will be in Ofunato for a while. All Hands just announced an extension from July until September. Knowing that the Haiti project is still going strong, who knows how long Project Tohoku will continue if funding isn’t an issue. So definitely send in your information to the project to keep up with the latest information, and donate if you have the cash. As far as I know, they are prioritizing Japanese and Japan-residing foreigner volunteers over international volunteers, but if you can speak Japanese and English somewhat fluently, you can help do important interpretation and they’ll probably consider your application. Japan has given me so much over the past ten years, and I was really glad to give back, even if it was just for ten days. Maybe I’ll find a way to come back and help out again. Hopefully some of the people I’ve met here will still be around then.

Day 9 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

Today we finally finished at the Ueno’s house. Three of us mudded the last couple of sections of the house, including the section that had previously been filled with water, and Keith took out the old septic tanks with a sledgehammer. The Uenos added a section onto the original building, and when they did, they put in a new toilet and left the old concrete septic tanks empty under the house. In the tsunami they filled with water and mud, and rather than digging out the mud, it was easier to break them up with a sledgehammer and dig out the rubble. Keith also sledged out the concrete from the in-floor kotatsu.

We were close to finishing at noon, but we would have left the place a bit of a mess, so we ended up staying all day. In the afternoon we took our time ensuring that all the nails in the frame of the house had been pounded flat and cleaning up after ourselves.

The couple came back later in the afternoon as did the carpenter who is working with them. There was a brief moment where I thought we had messed up big time. The husband gave us permission to destroy the old septic tanks earlier in the day, but the carpenter had a look of concern on his face when he saw the work. He started talking quickly with the wife and then asked me a few questions with words I couldn’t understand. The wife went to ask the husband something, and I turned to Shinpei to ask about the words and the process that the carpenter had described. Apparently in Japan when a family stops using a toilet, they have a priest purify it ritually with salt, an ofuda (shinto talismans often hung at shrines), and a blessing. This prevents any misfortune apparently. The toilet had been put out of use long before, so it was probably fine, and the couple didn’t seem too concerned.

One interesting note today was that there were more workers on the debris pile. It had been mostly flattened by the crew yesterday with the mini-crane and trucks, but there were three guys today on their hands and knees sorting through the soil, separating pieces of trash from dirt. It was dirty, thankless work – unbelievable to watch. By the end of the day they had finished approximately a third of the trash area.

A dozen of the volunteers have headed off to a satellite project in a town called Yamada, so I said some goodbyes today. There are fewer Japanese/English bilinguals around, and they’ve been sorting us into jobs before the evening meetings. Tomorrow is my last full day on Project Tohoku, and I’ll be at another gutting/mudding site with Keith. It’s just one room that needs the floors torn up and replaced within a day. Should be a fun last day.

Updates – pictures:

Two shots of the neighborhood near the Ueno’s house and store. In the first, the roof on the warehouse to the right is ripped back – this happened during the recent typhoon, not during the tsunami:

The Ueno’s store. Both entrances are temporary and were added after the tsunami:

Keith and Craig talking on the right, and on the left the Japanese workers sorting through the trash pile slowly but surely, making their way toward the store:

The temporary door for the house that I helped Vince build:

Group photo – L-R: Shinpei, Craig, Keith, the carpenter, and then Mr. and Mrs. Ueno on the first row:

The carpenter showing us his 40-year-old tools. Impressive.

Day 8 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

Today I was back at the Ueno’s house with Keith and Vince finishing up the gutting job. Mr. Ueno was there when we arrived, but he left quickly after. We found a tray of breakfast cakes and onigiri rice balls to eat during our break along with a box of drinks. They are a really sweet, generous couple.

There were only four of us today, and we slightly underestimated the time it would take us to finish the job. We expected to finish by 1pm, but we took all day and will go back tomorrow for a few hours. Keith and Vince spent the morning demolishing the bath area, which was difficult since the walls were lined with steel and then covered with concrete inlaid with tile.

Shinpei, a Japanese guy from Ibaraki, and I worked on taking out the subflooring in one room and then “mudding” another room. Mudding is basically shoveling the top two inches of soil that has accumulated under the house. It makes the rooms look neat, and it also removes the last of any debris that washed up underneath the house during the tsunami.

While we were mudding, we also helped Keith and Vince remove their trail of destruction. They were throwing sheets of metal, blocks of concrete from the bathroom floors and walls, and flooring from the last of the floor that we had to take up. We basically needed one more person with us during the day to run the wheelbarrow back and forth and we probably would have finished in time.

One new part of today was the construction workers outside of the house. There was a huge pile of debris immediately next to the Ueno’s house. It was a pile for the whole neighborhood, and we had been dumping on it over the past few days, but today there was a construction crew that was using a mini-crane to lift the debris onto trucks which took it away to a different location. The guy running the crane came up to talk with me at several points, helping us direct our trash to the right location. He and his team made pretty quick work of the pile – it was gone by the end of the day. He was also a little curious about us volunteers; he had a curious smile on his face the whole day, and we had a short conversation as he was heading off after finishing.

Part of the reason we were able to have this conversation was because our bus was late. This also enabled us to talk with Mrs. Ueno who came briefly around lunch and then returned later in the afternoon with her older sister-in-law. We all talked, and I translated for Keith and Vince. Neighbors who walked or biked by stopped to say thank you. The sister-in-law also gave us a big bag of canned coffee and eighteen tai-yaki (fish-shaped, red-bean filled Japanese cakes) to share with everyone. It felt kind of like a goodbye, and it probably should have been, but we’ll be back tomorrow to put the finishing touches on the job. Then we’ll head back to the canals for more shoveling.

Updates – pictures:

Vince and Keith demolishing the bathroom walls – steel-lined concrete:

The gutted house with just a path through the middle remaining:

From L-R: Vince, Keith, sister-in-law of the owners, her son Take-chan, Mrs. Ueno, myself.

Day 7 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

Tuesday is the weekly day off at Project Tohoku. This is to enable local volunteers to join the group on their weekends off. I wish I could say I slept in, but I actually woke up at 4am sharp. I was back to sleep at 5 after watching a little TV.

I did laundry and relaxed around the base in the morning, and in the afternoon a bunch of us went for lunch at a local restaurant and then took a walk down to the water. The bus that picks us up had driven by the area before, but it was different on foot – starker and more barren. There was a building with a sign marking the height of the water from the 1960 Chile earthquake tsunami at 5.6 meters. It also read: 災害は忘れたころにやってくる – disaster strikes when it’s been forgotten.

Right around the point where we felt we had walked a good ways and were about to turn back, we took a left and were able to access the water. We could see the concrete plant across the bay, ships docked, warehouses along the bay that had been mangled, and the huge swath of empty land beyond the immediate coast that the tsunami destroyed.

On our way back we walked on a road parallel to the one we walked down on, and we walked up a small hill that had been designated as an evacuation area. It was one block from the main road along the bay, so only three or so blocks off the water, but everything on the top of the hill was fine.

After that we walked home, stopping by a grocery store on the way. In total we walked something close to 10K, maybe even more, so I was too tired to join a group driving to a hot springs and going out for dinner. I walked over to a place called the Ys Center, which is right next door to the Fukushi no Sato Center. It seems to be a community/sports center. There’s a heated pool and a bath, and we can use the bath. After a scrub and some dinner, I’m ready for bed but need to kill two hours first. Back to work tomorrow.

Updates – pictures:

Pictures from the walk. They don’t really capture the scale of the destruction:

This building had the sign commemorating the 1960 tsunami:

Day 6 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

A full week finished! We have the day off tomorrow, and it couldn’t have come sooner. Today was a cold, blustery day.

I was with a team lead by a British-born US-based sixty year old named Keith. He looks like a combination between Keith Richards and Christopher Lloyd (from his role as Doc in Back to the Future). He’s a no-nonsense team leader, and he was all over the place instructing the team on how to remove water-logged drywall, remove floorboards, take out the subflooring, and all the other tasks we had to complete to gut the building.

The building we were working on used to be a clothing store owned by a family named Ueno. They live in a big, spacious house across the street from the store, and both of the buildings are within view of the coast. They took standing water up to six inches below the first floor ceiling, so almost all of the wood in the building has rotted.

We had a really productive team, and we got a lot done. The mother of the family was there helping take care of smaller things as well as serving us hot coffee during break time and providing us with a range of tasty Japanese snacks. Yesterday the whole family was there, and even the three year old was sweeping up.

Midway through the morning, Vince, one of the co-leaders, and I went across the street to help fix up the front door of the family’s house. This was not one of our tasks, but the family has been so nice that the team wanted to do it, and one of All Hands’ mottos seems to be give a little extra – a little lagniappe, I guess.

The door is a wide Japanese-style sliding entrance that had been totally destroyed. It faced the water, and the wind off the bay was strong and rainy – the remains of a typhoon that dissipated over the Tokyo area into a rainstorm last night. The family had tacked up a blue tarp, but it was flapping into the house and slowly being pulled out from above the door. The entranceway was getting wet, as was the house, which had recently been drywalled. Vince and Keith designed a frame that we could press into the doorway and support from behind with long sticks of wood. I was a nonbeliever at first and was thorougly impressed when they banged it securely into place between the existing entrance, leaving only a space as large as a single doorway open to the elements – much smaller than before.

My job was to help Vince pull nails, straighten the nails so we could use them again, and hold pieces of wood together when he nailed them. It was cold, wet work, as the house was more open and wetter than the store. I was ready for the coffee at lunch time.

After lunch we finished the door and then rejoined the rest of the gutting team. We managed to remove almost all of the subflooring except in an area that had filled up with water due to a culvert that broke during the earthquake. It filled up from the rainwater and should lower by Wednesday so that we can continue the work.

It sounds like the team will be returning on Wednesday after our day off. We still have to remove all the mud that accumulated beneath the subfloor, remove some of the subfloor that remains, and then spray the whole area with material to prevent mold from growing. I’m not sure if I’ll be going back to the house or not. I really want to, but a team may be returning to the school I visited last week, and it would be nice to do that again too. It may also be time for me to return to manual labor. We’ll have to see how things go.

There has been one change in process from Wednesday on. Japanese speakers will meet five minutes before the meeting and divvy up onto the project teams to ensure that there will be Japanese speakers on site. This gives us some freedom to choose before others, but I’m not sure if they’ll be letting us double up or not. It will be interesting to see. I was a little hesitant about my Japanese going into the volunteer experience, but I’ve had a couple of good interpretation experiences. The first was on the canal day when I spoke with local construction authorities to set up an alternate dump site. The second was the school principal. And the last was today when I intepreted between Keith and the family’s carpenter who has been assessing all the work we’ve done on the building. I haven’t had too much trouble at all, which is reassuring.

Day 5 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

This morning I cleaned up the Fukushi no Sato Center with three other people. We swept the floors, vaccuumed the carpets in our common living spaces, cleaned the bathrooms and the toilets, and cleaned the bathing/shower areas outside of the big tub. There are some days when the tub itself is scheduled for a clean, but today was not one of those days. I made friends with some of the staff because I was constantly asking them for refills of cleaning liquid, extra toilet paper, and foot mats to put down in the bath.

I also got a peek at the daily activities of the residents. On the first floor there are eight or so rooms that house old people that need help living. This morning they were up and about, and people were helping them out. They get bath time at around 11am, so we had to finish the baths by then.

This was not the most glorious of work to be done, but it has to be done, or else the areas where we live would get filthy. I was comfortable with all of the work we did today because of the time I’d spent on Dorm Crew – a student run program at my college that hired students to clean dorm toilets during term time. During the summer we did a full clean of all the dorms. Signing up to clean Fukushi no Sato Center also meant that I got first choice of jobs for tomorrow.

After we finished, we walked down from the Center to Sakari Base to have lunch and join up with other teams for the afternoon. The first team I was joined was basically done for they day. They were gutting two houses – all the floorboards were torn out, and the drywall had been removed. After that, the team sprayed a substance which is called EM. I need to research this substance a little more, but apparently it comes from Okinawa and is some organic compound made of yeast. It can be recreated effectively several times using sugar, and the yeast or whatever is in it eats away all the germs. So I watched as another guy sprayed the house. I helped do a little detail work on left over drywall.

After we finished there, I joined with another team which is organizing a new base across from the Sakari Base. Someone connected with All Hands owns the building which used to be a music store. The store closed long, long ago and has since been used as storage. It’s filled with all different types of furniture, pieces of wood and metal, boxes of CDs and posters, huge stacks of plates of glass, and more. Everything was covered with dust. For the last hour or so of the day, I helped move things from the second floor to the first and separate them into useful and non-useful piles. The building is a cool space, and once they get it set up, it will really make life around Sakari better for volunteers – they plan on installing showers, so they won’t have to use random showers anymore.

Tomorrow I’ll be working wit a team removing floorboards and gutting a house. It should be interesting to see the project from start to finish. Today I was only able to see the house after the floors had already been ripped out.

Oh, and we went out for karaoke tonight because it was one of the team’s last night. I managed to get everyone into cabs and back to the Center before the 10pm curfew. Great success.

Updates – pics:

Here is Norm in action, spraying the EM disinfectant throughout a completely gutted house:

On the walk back to base from the house, I spotted the waterline on one of the houses. In the distance you can see the post office (with the orange sign) with a matching waterline. To give you an idea, this section of town is pretty far from the coast. It’s on the one of the main shopping stretches of Ofunato, which is parallel to the main highway a block over (like many Japanese towns):