Sunday, June 3, 2012

Minamisoma Trip: the First Day

Last weekend, I had an opportunity to do something I had been hoping to do for some time. Some friends of mine, patrons of the Black Lion pub in Meguro, have been doing volunteer work in Tohoku, most recently in Minamisoma, Fukushima, and this time I was able to go along. Previously, I'd contributed some time and money to help fund the project, but I'd been told that they sometimes need truck drivers, and had offered my services to do something more direct. I finally got my chance.

Early Saturday afternoon I met Andrew Coad, the expedition leader, at the Nippon Car Rental facility in Roppongi, where we got a two-ton truck, and then quickly set out to get it loaded and on the road.  The first stop was Metro Cash and Carry in Tatsumi, where we got about half a truck full of vegetables and fruit and several cases of snacks for kids. This part was relatively easy, since most of the stuff was on pallets and the warehouse workers got them quickly into the truck using hand-operated wheeled jacks (think man-powered forklifts).  The very energetic Andrew alternated between filling in gaps with loose cases and checking counts: in order to ensure fair distribution, it's necessary to have a good count, so getting numbers on, for example,  oranges (1680 of 'em) and the average number of carrots or potatoes per case was as important as confirming the number of cases. New to the game, I helped as much as I could, but I wasn't terribly useful in comparison with the warehouse pros and the indefatigable (he had spent the previous day/night moving, and had returned what was probably the same truck just a few hours before!), efficient Andrew.

Then it was off to Second Harvest in Asakusabashi, where we met Philip Duncan, who is in charge of distribution logistics for the Save Minamisoma Project, which in this case meant that he had arranged for the truck and he helped Andrew and me to transfer enough cases of assorted food and beverages from a truck parked nearby to fill up ours. It was a warm day, and he must have been less comfortable picking up and passing heavy boxes in a shirt and tie than we were in casual clothes. He was still smiling, though,  when we finally locked the truck up and set off for Fukushima.

Meanwhile, the rest of our group had left in two private vehicles from  Meguro, to go up separately and rendezvous with the truck at our destination for the day, close to Fukushima Station.

The first leg of the journey was easier than expected. The weather was good for most of the trip, and the roads were less crowded than I'd anticipated. We took the Tohoku Expressway once we'd cleared the Shuto (Tokyo Metropolitan) Expressway and its environs, and made good time for the next 250-odd kilometers, with relatively little traffic all the way, and just a flurry of rain in one of the passes close to our destination. We reached Fukushima Station and the nearby Grand Park Hotel  at just about the planned time, virtually simultaneously with the other two vehicles. Here, in trying to park the truck in a lot designed for rather smaller vehicles, I had an unfortunate altercation with the awning of the lot's payment machine, bending it pretty thoroughly and creasing the top of the truck's cargo compartment.

The rest of the evening was spent in checking in, going out for dinner and a few beers, parceling loose kids' snacks into individual plastic pouches, and, eventually, talking to the local police--one of whom turned out to have relatives in Minamisoma--and to the owner of the parking lot...who also owns the hotel, and who was an astoundingly nice fellow, very decent (almost apologetic) about the damage to his awning, and who even gave us a cash donation for the project! After a nightcap or two, most of us turned in relatively early; the plan called for a 06:30 departure.

Stay tuned for a description of the rest of the trip, in the next post.

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