When one of our Japanese friends invited us to her place, we gladly accepted since we were looking for ways to relax from our hectic schedule. As an International Student here in Japan, it is always nice to have some Japanese friends around. We get to practice our Japanese, hear about inside stories we wouldn’t normally have the chance to hear and learn some pretty cool Japanese phrases (for example, “両手に花” pronounced “Ryo te ni hana” which means advantages in both hands; completely irrelevant, though!). Since we wanted to pitch in, we made some dishes we thought we were good at making and jumped aboard a train from Sendai station to Souma in Fukushima Prefecture; our friend Yoko-san’s home.
It took us nearly an hour to reach this part of Fukushima where we had never been before. When the train was about to reach our destination, we noticed a helicopter following us.
“Maybe we are going to be on TV!” I joked.
Soon, we saw several people waving at us joyfully and taking the pictures of the train.
It was only then that we came to know that we were aboard the train service that had just resumed operation in the city of Minamisouma in Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (and nuclear disaster which followed). This was an amazing, emotional symbol of recovery for the residents! It was clear that they were very happy and excited to see the train finally up and running. They were cheering for this achievement, riding the train back and forth from Sendai to Souma.
According to the media reports, at 7:00 AM on December 10, there was a ceremony to mark the reopening of a 9.4-kilometer stretch of East Japan Railway’s Joban Line at Haranomachi station. For the first time in five years and nine months a Joban Line train had resumed its operation. After the 2011 earthquake, the reconstruction authorities had immediately started the massive project of rebuilding this section of the track – which involved building three new stations along the line. The section that is currently back in business runs from Hamayoshida Station in Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, to Souma Station in Souma, Fukushima Prefecture. This development means that all coastal sections are once again connected by the lines operated by East Japan Railway Co.
There was great commotion at the station!! The station master himself – clad in a crisp white uniform – was handing out brochures and maps of Souma. Yoko-san had kindly came to meet us and took us to her home, which was just a few minutes away from the station.
There were around 10 of us in total, including some of her Japanese friends. After the initial greetings, we handed over our dishes; I had made Butter Chicken while other friends had made Ratatouille, cakes and desserts.
After lunch, we talked, drank tea and relaxed. Our host explained how the stations were damaged in the earthquake and recounted her experience. Now that the rail service had finally resumed, she hoped that it will soon be back in full swing. She told us that some sections of the railway in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures still remain impassable and may not be back in operation until 2020.
That day, we returned late after making plans to meet again in near future. With Yoko-san, we are always making plans for days to go hiking in Tohoku’s beautiful wilderness. Promising to meet again soon in Yamadera, we parted our ways.
Outside, it was cold and windy. At the station, the crowd had disappeared but something about the ambience told us that the town was standing strong that day. As the train arrived, we swiped our SUICA passes and went inside.