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Dai-En Bennage Roshi

Here’s an update on Dai-En Bennage Roshi, who has been volunteering in Northern Japan:

Dear Sangha,

I just spoke with NiOsho (Dai-En Bennage Roshi) over the phone.  Here is the update:

After departing from Koen Hunter and Nanshin White in Kyoto, NiOsho went to visit Fukan-san in Miyagi prefecture. Fukan lives just on the edge of where the tsunami hit. Dai-En spent three days with Fukan and Fukan’s family and was able to see first-hand the devastation from the tsunami. At one Pure Land Sect temple the gravestone markers were flung around as though styrofoam. There is a lot of debris everywhere.

Graveyard

Fukan’s family was very warm and welcoming to Dai-En prior to her departure for Morioka City to see her friend, Teiko Abe-san. Abe-san led Dai-En to Kannonji, Yamamoto Tessai Roshi’s (the Dharma brother of Maura Soshin O’Hallaran and teacher of Rev. Tenku Ruff) temple.  There she was given permission to use Yamamoto Roshi’s car. With Abe-san as her guide, she drove to the volunteer center on October 14th.

Dai-En has been riding in a caravan full of volunteers about a 2 hours’ distance to some of the worst hit regions of the tsunami.  Unfortunately, she is not allowed to take photos. All along the highways on the way to the site she can see debris, damage, and construction vehicles. At the volunteer center she was taught a method of “tapping touch,” a kind of gentle massage, to use on the earthquake victims to help them with the trauma of the earthquake. After doing “tapping touch,” Dai-En listens to the survivors’ stories. She was also able to give a Dharma Talk to the people she was ministering to, which was very well received. One older man commented that he could not believe he was hearing words of the Dharma coming out of a foreign woman.

Everyone returns in the caravan for the 2 hour distance drive back to the volunteer center.  At the volunteer center wake up time is 6:30.  Bed time is 10pm.  There are volunteers from all over the world staying with her at the center.  Basically, they have a microwave with which to cook their food.  Volunteers are expected to bring their own food or to go out for meals. Dai-En was given a lot of wholesome foods by Abe-san plus a futon on which to sleep.  There is also a public bath about 2 miles away from the center which she makes certain to go to every other day.

Dai-En sounds quite well.  She stayed at the volunteer center until the 29th of October, then returned to Abe-san’s home for the weekend before heading to the NiSodo (women’s monastery) in Nagoya for sesshin (silent retreat).  She plans to visit some of the older nuns she practiced with many years ago before returning to the States on the 12th of November.

Below are some photos of Dai-En with Koen and Nanshin, and Choro in Kyoto.

Gassho,
Daishin

(Dai-En’s disciple at Mt. Equity Zendo)

Dai-En Bennage with lay disciples in Kyoto

Offering Alms
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This story was in the Mainichi Daily News today. It’s about the mother I mentioned in The Saddest Day post who got a heavy machinery license to search for her daughter’s missing body. Her daughter was finally found several miles from Okawa Elementary School.

Mother determined to keep up search for missing children after daughter found dead

Naomi Hiratsuka, pictured here on Sept. 6, acquired a license to operate heavy machinery to search for children missing from the March 11 tsunami. (Mainichi)

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi — Human remains found near a fishing port have been confirmed through DNA testing to be that of sixth-grade student Koharu Hiratsuka, who had been missing since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, giving a measure of closure to her family.

The parents of 12-year-old Koharu — Shinichiro Hiratsuka, 45, and his wife Naomi, 37 — had been desperately hoping to locate at least part of their daughter’s body, and the confirmation brought both sadness and relief.

The remains were found near the fishing port in Naburi Bay by local fishermen, several kilometers from Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki, where Koharu was when the tsunami struck. Shinichiro and Naomi headed to Naburi to identify the body on Aug. 9, confident that they would know whether it was their daughter by looking at her navel. Upon arrival, however, they found that the body had suffered more damage than they’d expected.

They did, however, recognize the multiple layers of underwear on the body as their daughter’s; it had still been cold when the quake and tsunami hit. They took the body home with them the next night, and had it cremated on Aug. 11.

Relieved by the confirmation that the body was indeed his daughter’s, Shinichiro says, “We can hold a proper funeral and send her off to be with everyone else.” Meanwhile, Naomi vows: “I will continue doing what I can to find other missing children.”

Search efforts for missing students continue near Okawa Elementary School (far left background). The mounds of dirt indicate areas that have already been searched. (Mainichi)

Of the 108 students at Okawa Elementary, Koharu and 69 other students were killed, and four are still missing. The school was completely submerged immediately following the tsunami, preventing those searching for missing loved ones from getting close.

Once the water had subsided, Shinichiro and Naomi shoveled through the soil looking for Koharu, along with the parents of other missing children. After Shinichiro returned to work, Naomi attended a driving school and obtained a license to operate heavy machinery in late June. She went on to dig through the ground with other parents of missing children, using machinery rented from the Ishinomaki Municipal Government.

After the March disaster, Shinichiro and Naomi’s other children, son Toma, 6, who this spring started attending Okawa Elementary School, and 2-year-old daughter Sae, whose vocabulary has expanded since she started going to daycare, continued to thrive. The Hiratsukas could not revel in their surviving children’s growth, however, with their eldest still missing. The longer Koharu remained unaccounted for, the more it unsettled them. It was already nearing the Bon festival, a Buddhist tradition honoring the dead, when Koharu finally came home.

On Sept. 11, six months after the quake and tsunami, police search operations were scaled back, with the Metropolitan Police Department’s back-up squad pulling out completely. Wondering what would happen to the four children still missing from Okawa Elementary, Naomi bid farewell to the squad in tears. After they left, she got back to digging.

Naomi says that until her daughter was found, she had been worried that her family would never find Koharu, and that they would be left behind as others turned to the future. The support of the other parents who continued to help her efforts is what drives her now. On behalf of those families who are busy searching for their missing children, Naomi says, “There are still more places that need to be searched.” She plans to continue supporting the search until all of the remaining four children from Okawa Elementary are found.

Click here for the original Japanese story

via Mother determined to jeep up search for missing children after daughter found dead – The Mainichi Daily News.

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This is an article from the Peace Boat blog about volunteers cleaning up a temple cemetery.

Volunteers cleaning graves in preparation for the equinox

September 7, 2011

Recently volunteers have become busy with cleaning graves, as local residents have requested help to have the graves cleaned by the time of the equinox. Mainly short-term volunteers have been involved with this and everyday many volunteers are spending time cleaning graves and the surrounding area. Today’s report is about such grave cleaning activities at Saikou Temple in Kadonowaki-cho.

It’s been approximately five months since the disaster occurred. This is a photograph of the area before cleaning activities commenced.

Although the cars that were washed into the cemetery by the tsunami have been removed, the cemetery was buried in sludge and debris of destroyed houses. One cannot tell where the cemetery begins and ends.

Volunteers began working in the area in the beginning of August upon receiving a request from Saikou Temple. Initially approximately 50 volunteers were coming each day to help, and since Obon (Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honour the deceased spirits of one’s ancestors) there are almost 100 people helping every day.

The volunteers are ‘cleaning’ but it is not quite the same kind of cleaning as say for example cleaning gutters. It’s not possible to just simply pick up gravestones and move them. The work is physically straining and needs to be carried out carefully. Ichijou Kenji, one of the volunteer leaders, explains to volunteers that they need to change their mindset and understand that grave cleaning is not the same as other cleaning jobs.

On this day, in addition to the regular Peace Boat short-term volunteers, there are corporate volunteers from Mitsubishi Corporation’s CSR department, and volunteers from NGO Habit for Humanity (hereafter, “Habitat”) who have been providing ongoing volunteer assistance since the beginning of August helping with the grave cleaning.

The volunteers enter the area where they will be working whilst being careful of where they step.

First of all they need to make a path.

The volunteers look for where there would have originally been a path and start working to clear the way with shovels.

The volunteers work under a hot sun silently and gradually, taking short breaks often.

The work has to be done very carefully, and there are some situations where volunteers on their first or second day are unable cannot make judgments about how to proceed on their own. This is where the motto of “Report, Contact, Consult” comes in. This motto is important for volunteers to be able to work in an organized manner.

As the volunteers work, the original condition and layout of the cemetery gradually becomes apparent.

After 3 weeks of work, the changes that can be seen are due to more than just cleaning.

The next morning, there are flowers on one of the graves.

In order to get rid of all the mud and debris, it is put into sandbag bags and taken out of the cemetery by a chain of people. This requires many people to help. The volunteers from Mitsubishi Corporation, Habitat and Peace Boat all work together.

Sandbag bags (front), debris (rear left) and metal (rear right).

It is important to separate what is collected through the cleaning activities.

After the morning work is finished, the volunteers go into the grounds of nearby Saikou Temple, but they are not going there to worship.

Everyone is eating lunch together, thanks to the consideration of temple master Mr Higuchi who allows volunteers to eat lunch inside the temple like this each day.

It’s a nice break for the volunteers who have been working under the hot sun. The volunteers received gifts of chilled jelly and energy drinks which they appreciate very much.

Temple master Mr Higuchi (left) and volunteer leader Ichijou Kenji.

Mr Higuchi commented, “Earlier we received help from youth associations all over the country and we were able to clean up the temple grounds. We thought that if 100 people worked for 3 days that we would be able to clean up the cemetery but we underestimated the size of the job. After working on it for a day, we realized the massive amount of work that needed to be done and were worried that it might even take until the end of the year to finish.”

Mr Higuchi expressed his appreciation by saying, “We have thankfully been given the opportunity to get to know volunteers from Peace Boat and other organizations. We have been most surprised by the amount of manpower and organizational skills of the volunteers. It’s really helping us a lot!”

The original aim was to finish the cleaning activities near Seikou Temple by the time of the equinox. It looks like they will be finished well in advance.

The volunteers will keep on working so that people can come to the cemetery to pay their respects as soon as possible.

Photos: Kataoka Kazushi

via Peace Boat Emergency Relief Operation | 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami.

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Nishiyama-sanToday is my friend Takashi Nishiyama’s 62nd birthday. On March 18th, three days after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, Nishiyama-san, posted this comment on his Facebook wall:

I’m ready to go the disaster relief. But great wall is very difficult for government! 
I’m ready to go to the disaster assistance, but big wall of government is very hard. I am impatient but I’ll try.

The next news came on March 22:

Tomorrow I will depart from Saiki for the affected areas. I plan to volunteer in the field of relief supplies and carried. This time our members number is 2 with 2 cars.

I met Nishiyama-san (his name means “West Mountain”) in August 1996, just after I arrived in Japan to teach English at Honan High School in Saiki City, Oita Prefecture (Southern Japan). I told a friend I was interested in sailing, and the next day I received a call from Nishiyama-san inviting me for coffee. Nishiyama-san is the president of the Saiki Sailing Club. That melting August afternoon, he and I sat in a cafe near the harbor and chatted in English about sailing. I didn’t speak Japanese at the time. At the close of the meeting, Nishiyama-san said, “Great! So, I’ll pick you up at 1:00 a.m. for the regatta.”

What!

Worried, I called the friend who introduced us. I didn’t know this guy at all, and

My first regatta with Nishiyama-san--the Uwajima Cup, 1996.

I was brand new to the country. My friend assured me that Nishiyama-san was a good guy so, with some trepidation, I entered the regatta with the team. We sailed all night to Uwajima, on Shikoku, the next island over, had a great time, and a strong friendship was born. Nishiyama-san and I continued sailing together for the three years I lived in Saiki and we have remained friends ever since.

Nishiyama-san is one of the most “good” people I know. He has a huge heart and his deepest wish is to help people. He can’t stand the thought that someone may not like him, and he endeavors to like everybody. He collects children who need a bit of extra care and teaches them to sail. He volunteers in various organizations, and when asked to help, he always says yes. Nishiyama-san is no saint in outer form–he’s just a regular guy, quick to laugh and joke that his boat runs on beer. His health isn’t so good, but he doesn’t let it prevent him from living his life to the fullest. He brings to mind the Buddhist exhortation to “burn yourself up, leaving no trace.”

At my Zaike Tokudo (Lay Ordination) in 1999.

Scaling the Great Wall
Immediately after the tsunami, many Japanese people wanted to go north to help, but the government told them to wait. First-response teams were combing the rubble for survivors (and bodies), there was no infrastructure, and the areas were dark at night and considered dangerous.

Nishiyama-san went to Saiki City Hall and asked how Saiki was going to help. City Hall said there was nothing they could do. Frustrated, he enlisted the help of Uesuki, one of the former sailing children (now an adult), and the two of them pulled the “Parates of the Saikiwan” (wan = bay) flag off the yacht, hopped in a small, borrowed truck and drove 900 miles north to Ishinomaki City, paying their own tolls, gas, and expenses. There were gas and food shortages at the time, so prices were inflated.

Uesuki & Nishiyama-san. 1997.

In Ishinomaki, Nishiyama-san and Uesuki first slept in the truck and then in a tent (Saikiwan flag flying overhead), living on Calorie Mate power bars and vitamin gel. It was bitterly cold and snow covered the ground. Still, in the chaos of the recent disaster, they found a way to help, using the truck to make food deliveries to people outside of official evacuation shelters. Nishiyama-san listened to people’s stories of floating on rooftops, watching their child being pulled away just out of arm’s reach, and climbing the one tree that was left standing. The children’s stories saddened him most deeply.

Facebook posting, April 2:

The affected areas are slowly changing. Enough rubble has been removed for some roads to become passable, but goods still haven’t reached everywhere. Yesterday, I heard there are plenty of local volunteers and supplies here, so the government will stop collecting donated goods. No way!! There isn’t nearly enough help or relief supplies! Why does the government spread such information? I’m looking for volunteers.

Nishiyama-san's first volunteer trip

On April 18, after a month of hard work, Nishiyama-san pulled himself away from Ishinomaki with some difficulty and drove back to Saiki. As he left the disaster zone, he wondered what kind of dream he’d been in. Stopping at a hotel, after the proprietor bought him a beer and thanked him for doing what so many people wanted to do, Nishiyama-san fell asleep in the bathtub that night, exhausted. Back in Saiki, he couldn’t quite discern whether his month volunteering had really happened or not. Many volunteers, relief workers and tsunami survivors express this same sentiment. In one of the videos of the tsunami arriving at Ishinomaki, we can hear a woman alternately crying out loudly, and then stopping and asking, “Is this a dream? Is this a dream?”

Tenku & Nishiyama-san

Tenku & Nishiyama-san in front of his tent

Nishiyama-san returned to Saiki a hero. People were eager for stories, photos and firsthand information. He raised money, gave talks, and, over time, recruited over 100 volunteers from Saiki. He has become a point person for volunteers from other countries as well, offering his tent for their use and helping them figure out how to help. The Saiki City Hall was now eager to help, and Saiki sent its fire brigade to Ishinomaki. Saiki offered free housing to refugees. Local fishermen, upon hearing how much the devastated fishing communities craved fresh fish, sent an entire catch north. Saiki also donated a truckload of their local specialty, sesame soup stock, and the nearby city of Beppu sent a boatload of hot-spring water. On the June day that Fukan-san and I volunteered with Nishiyama-san in Ayukawahama he was awaiting delivery of a fishing boat, donated by Saiki fishermen so that fishermen in the devastated village could resume their livelihood.

Saiki Firefighters at Work

May 21:

I am going back to Ishinomaki again to do volunteer work! My condition is very good for beer!!!!!

Currently, Nishiyama-san is on his fourth trip to Ishinomaki. When volunteers answer “Oita Prefecture” to inquiries about where they’re from, the locals say, “Oh, Saiki City?” I am so proud of Nishiyama-san, and of my Japanese hometown of Saiki. Nishiyama-san’s bravery in finding a way over the great wall of government has made way for hundreds of people to do something with the compassion they feel for Northern Japan. He is my hero. Happy birthday Nishiyama-san!

August 23:

My birthday today! Where was I going till now?

(Photos from various sources)

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