Wakayama prefecture is a beautiful part of Japan full of rolling hills, giant trees and plum blossoms that bloom around this time of year. It sits next to Nara, the area where my sister is currently living and teaching English. Last September, the area was hit hard by Typhoon Talas which left many parts of Wakayama and Nara devastated – the typhoon caused many trees to fall into the rivers which led to flooding throughout many different towns. Thousands of people were evacuated, many people were injured and some even lost their lives. The area is still recuperating from all of the damage done.
Seeing as I was just in Japan a few months ago and had a lot of time to do the typical sightseeing, I wanted to do something a little different with this visit. My sister got plugged into a relief organization through some of her JET friends and we decided to volunteer to help with some of the work they are doing in Wakayama. Because of the flooding, the rivers moved a lot of trash and debris and many of it has still not been cleaned up due to the sheer amount of it. So on Sunday, a group of seven of us went into the mountains to clear trash from a national park. The park is actually on an island which itself is still very beautiful, but unfortunately now has many broken trees and trash littered all over the area. The island used to be a big attraction for tourist groups that would come to the area, and one of the guys who takes care of the land told us a little about the history of the park. Over 150 years ago there was a great flood which wiped out most of the trees, but the flood brought new seeds from all over and created a whole new diverse (multicultural, if you will) forest. Which explains the random palm tree we saw hanging out in the middle of the island.
We spent about 5 hours clearing as much as possible, whether it was climbing trees to get trash that was stuck in the branches (which showed just how high the water came) or shoveling out debris that had been deeply buried. A surprise find of the day was a monkey skull Neetha came across – it reminded us how much wildlife must have been wiped out as well because of the storm.
In a day’s work we filled over 25 bags of trash, and we only tackled what felt like a small area of the island. It was eye-opening as undoubtedly it will take a lot of time and effort for Japan to fully recover not just from this disaster but from last year’s tsunami as well. That being said, from speaking with the people that live in this area I’ve found that they are optimistic and focused on regrowth, which is a testament to the resilence and beauty of this country.