Minima Sanruki: A Collection of Images

Minima Sanruki: A Collection of Images

Written by performer Stefanie Robinson


In the air

My constant thought, since this job was confirmed, has been how we are going to such a beautiful place for such a tragic reason.

I am torn between my excitement to be returning so soon to Japan and trepidation at what it is I am going to see/witness.


As we land a conversation is struck with one of the Japanese air stewards. He is shocked that we are going to Minima Sanruki, and obviously emotional. He says, “recovery is slow… but the Japanese are patient people.” He asked us to take his thoughts with us to the people of Tohoku.


We struggle to explain puppets at customs and odd looks are received at our big box.


We arrive by train to Furukawa to transfer into our hire van.

We have time to spare, we wander into the train station shops and stock up on new treats, rice balls with unknown filings, strange looking sweets and unknown drinks. We are approached by a woman who curious about why we are there. We explain it to her. She is moved; she herself has traveled from her home for a few days to help with the recovery effort after a monk came to her town to talk about the recovery and the help that was needed. She thanked us on behalf of her country and gave us local sweets. Chestnuts in coconut.


Our entourage of five Australians each pulling two large pieces of luggage across the cobbled paths catches the attention of the police as we pass their window. They come out to ask us questions. Its is simply curiosity at who we are, what we are doing there, and then thanks to us for coming. They are impressed.


We drive to the school through beautiful autumn sun, narrow twisting roads through countryside and small villages.


At the school we welcomed by the principal. It s a temporary school, as theirs was destroyed. The school they are in is an old one that was due to be demolished. They can be there till March. Then they hope to return to one closer to where they live. This one is up to an hour’s drive away for the children and teachers. At the moment there are no plans to rebuild the destroyed school.


The principal shows us a PowerPoint presentation of photos telling us about the school, the cultural activities they do and their experience of the tsunami. It was during school hours. On hearing the emergency siren, they evacuated up a hill, but then had to go higher to a temple, where they stayed over night, lighting a fire and singing songs to pass the time.


Fellow Australian Old Man River teachers the kids the song ‘La’ a song he wrote that got famous in Japan and Italy. It’s a very cute song. The kids enjoy learning it and slowly get braver with their voices as we repeat the song. A group of four boys in Prep are completely gorgeous to watch. They are very openly excited, with lots of jumping up and down and hugs after each round of the song finishes. A teacher patiently works with them to keep them in time with the bells that have been put in their hands. The rest of the school is a little more reserved.


Out side it is 4.30, the autumn day is drawing to an end.

It is time to go.


The hotel we stayed in was right on the water’s edge. The first four or five stories had born the brunt of the wave.... but they have refurbished it and recently opened. It was rather nice, complete with outdoor Onsen that looked over the ocean, and across to what was once the township. On this first night as we lay in the onsen before dinner, I looked at what seems to be a wall and wondered if it was a breakwater…



The next day we head into the disaster area and I see that it is not a brick wall but a pile of debris, of houses and shops that the ocean had picked up, tossed around and turned into match sticks. We stood in what was once the center of town and glanced at the lost pieces of peoples lives amongst the mud, the boat resting on the 3rd floor of the hospital, the piles of cars gathered and stacked for removal, the remote control embedded in the mud…


Apparently the money has run out for removing the debris, so it sits waiting for someone somewhere to make a decision.

Behind us a recovery crew is sifting through an area, searching for lost memories, photos, jewellery etc.….


Recovery is very slow; they are still cleaning the debris and taking about rebuilding, and where to rebuild. Many people are in temporary accommodation that won’t cope with the on coming winter...


There is a shrine at what was once the emergency center. There are many stories of individual’s experiences, loses and survival.


The Tsunami was a lot bigger than any in living memory, they are now looking more deeply into their old stories and history to see if they can earn more about past events that will help them prepare better and to make decisions about how to rebuild...



We meet up with some more of the Australian embassy staff and head up to the market to help set up. It is almost done when we arrive. There are many people there, tasks are given and quickly done, many people are standing wondering what to do, leaping on each opportunity.


A group of Japanese students who were studying overseas but returned to help with the recovery have made a flag, it will be 100 meters long, it is to remind the world that Japan still needs help, they ask us to sign it to show our support.


That evening there are drinks with the market people, the embassy people, the village elders (the mayor etc.) and us.

Stories are exchanged people meet beer drunk, cheese ate…


We return to the Hotel

We dine in a private room with the embassy staff and the Australian Ambassador. The food is very traditional Japanese fair, lots of small delicate dishes, all containing fish. There is live abalone whose fate is to be cooked in front of us…



The market that we performed in was fun, lively, cheerful, people loved the puppets and were happy that we had come to show our support; their biggest fear is that they will be forgotten.


The day was opened officially with a drumming demonstration, speeches and a minute of silence that was called in with the emergency siren. It rips right through me, an intense physical response, I hang my head low and squeeze my eyes closed holding back the tears that threaten.


The embassy stall was a lot of fun, the lamingtons disappeared quickly, the wine sold out and sausages disappeared. A couple in the temporary accommodation won one of the Australian trips that were up for grabs.



We return to the primary school.

(After one last onsen, another massive breakfast and a quick souvenir shop and snack top up in the hotel shop)


We arrive at the school just on time as the GPS has taken us on a safe but long journey.

Some are waiting for us in the hall; others are still finishing their morning formal greetings after returning from play.

We introduce ourselves and give instructions for the workshop we are running.

Everyone enjoys themselves, the teachers participate, parades are made, puppets fly dance, swim.

Extra newspaper and tape is gathered for use in other lessons…



It was an honour to go.

To feel like our presence made a difference, from the bringing of joy and laughter to the children, to the symbol of international support, to being able to come back and talk about the experience and so keep the reality of what people are experiencing alive in peoples minds and to feel the potential of making an ongoing difference.


I was once again reminded of the simplicity and power of play and creativity.


The embassy staff that looked after us where incredibly wonderful and it was great to be able to ask them lots of questions and get insight and informed information to what was happening in regards to recovery, experiences, radiation and its local and national impact.

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