In September, I found myself in Tochigi City for the first time.
To be perfectly honest, I didn't even know there was a city called Tochigi. More often than not, cities like Nasu and Nikko come to mind when you mention Tochigi prefecture. Even more interesting, although the city is the namesake of the prefecture, it is actually not the capital (it's Utsunomiya City!).
That being said, Tochigi City is a far cry from a dead beat town, often referred to as "Kanto's Kurashiki." (If you don't know, Kurashiki is a city in Okayama prefecture with a famous historical district) This pretty much means that Tochigi City has many old traditional Japanese buildings, which I can appreciate. I love cities that work to preserve their history.
In early September, several typhoons passed by (or close by) Japan, which resulted in unprecedented rain and lead to heavy flooding in certain areas. Most of the largely affected areas where along Kinu River, which the media focused on. But there were many other areas that were affected by flooding, Tochigi City being one of them.
I have to say, I really appreciate the network of friends I gained when I had an opportunity to volunteer in Miyagi. We all lead very different lives, but one thing is the same...once you start it's hard to stop. So when my contact at the local social welfare council (they are usually in charge of volunteers for disaster relief) mentioned a lack of volunteers in certain areas, I asked to join in and to my surprise, there were very many familiar faces!
My team was given an assignment to clear out everything from inside a large storage garage, which was filled with old family memorabilia. If you know anything about the older generation in Japan, it's that they don't throw anything away. The garage had been sitting in flood water for awhile before it drained away so most boxes were soggy and starting to mold. Our job was to bring everything out and divide the items according to the city's trash disposal rules.
The older owners were working along side us, too. It's always so difficult to know what to say or do to not make the experience even more hard than it is for them. I can't imagine what it's like for them to have to throw so many things with memories away, so suddenly.
They had already stripped everything from their house and so it was just the garage that was left. We worked on it from 10am to 3pm, with a lunch break in the middle. It was just enough time to call the city to come pick everything up to dispose.
This was my first time seeing a garbage truck come to do private pick-ups. We all helped throw everything in, which was an experience on its own.
By the end of the day, we were pretty filthy but it felt good to be of some help to the owners, who jokingly said they'd see us all next week. I took that to mean they were satisfied with our work :)
We drove back to Tokyo after checking out at the local volunteer center. Tochigi City was so close that I was back at home by 8pm, which was much much shorter than our days driving back from Miyagi. Now that I know how lovely the city is, I think I'll try going back as a visitor one of these days.
And I hope by then, the city will have bounced back from the flooding. x
A spot of fall.
Things at the volunteer center.
Energy drink before the manual labor.
It was raining that morning, too.
We took a break for lunch and explored a bit of the city.
We ate lunch here!
The ramen was delicious :)
Rubber boots and work gloves are a must.
The amazingly efficient city workers.
Our day ended at the city hall.
Took a break at Hanyu parking area.
Tochigi is famous for lemon milk, which I love.