(Iwate Nippo: March 4, 2016 – p. 29)
Five years after the Tohoku disaster, fishing gear that drifted about 7,000 km across the Pacific to the Oregon in the United States will finally be returned to its owner, Kohei Omachi [spelling not confirmed]. Omachi is a 67-year-old survivor of the Great East Japan Earthquake who lives in a temporary housing facility in the Osawa district of the town of Yamada. This “miraculous reunion” will be realized by Jess Paulson, an American diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and his wife, Mami Kawamata. Omachi is grateful to them for finding the fishing gear as it is a precious memento of the time before the disaster.
On January 24, Deborah Dean [spelling not confirmed], Paulson’s mother, found a wooden tablet about 30 cm long washed up on the shore when she was walking along the beach in the Oceanside community of Oregon. Influenced by Kawamata, she has a keen interest in Japanese culture. Looking at the kanji characters on the tablet, she instinctively felt it must have been debris from tsunami-hit Japan and immediately contacted her son and his wife.
To find the owner of the tablet, Kawamata searched for clues in the characters inscribed on it, which said “Daikomaru Osawa” and included a six-digit number that might have been a telephone number. She contacted the municipal offices of Kesennuma and Kamaishi, as well as the Japan Coast Guard. On February 17, about a month after the discovery, she finally got in touch with Omachi’s wife Satsuko.
The debris turned out to be an underwater kite used for trolling cherry salmon. Omachi had made the device himself from paulownia wood for the spring fishing season. He was storing it at a fishermen’s hut when it was washed away by the tsunami.
“I lost everything in the tsunami,” said Omachi. “I had never imagined my fishing gear would be found in the United States.” Satsuko is very grateful to the Paulsons. “As we approach the fifth anniversary of the disaster, I’m glad they contacted various places to locate the owner,” she said.
The Paulsons will meet the Omachis in Yamada on March 12 to return the fishing gear to them.
The American couple was in Washington, D.C. at the time of the disaster. “We felt terrible that there was nothing we could do,” they recalled. Last summer, Kawamata returned to Japan for the first time in about ten years. “I feel a sense of destiny in the discovery of the gear that was washed away in the tsunami and the fact that I’m going to deliver it to Omachi,” she said.
The trip will be their first visit to the quake-hit region. “I hope we can strengthen our bonds with the Yamada community and pass down the memory of the disaster to our children,” they said.
“Although it was just a small object that washed ashore, it will become a bridge connecting the past and the future. It will make me happy if this can bring back memories from before the disaster,” Paulson said.