Note: While trying to stay as factual as possible, the details of this story were conveyed to us only in Japanese and I cannot confirm everything is absolutely correct. The great news is that with the help of filmmaker Matthew Burns, my friend Paul Nethercott will be releasing a video of Mrs. Fukuoka’s story in the near future. This story only scratches the surface of the story the video will help tell about her. I will link to the video when it is completed.
Standing on the porch of the new Fukuoka house, now elevated a few feet from its original foundation, one can hear the quiet roar of the ocean beyond the fifteen foot tall cement barrier built to protect the neighborhood from a tsunami. Assuming, of course, the tsunami in question is less than fifteen feet high itself and not the terrifying wave of destruction that occurred in March 2011, which was in many areas of the coast, far greater. Alongside the road running parallel with the coast, a grotesquely twisted guard rail remains where it lay after being manhandled by the power of the water.
We are greeted at the door by Kai-kun, the Shiba dog whose amazing story plays an role in Mrs. Fukuoka’s emotional recovery from the tsunami. Inside the Fukuoka house, Mrs. Fukuoka shows us a few of the many crafts she has been working on lately. Besides the lovely seaglass necklaces that my friend Paul Nethercott has been selling to help raise support for the 2 Criminals film project, she shows us adorable things she has been sewing: purses and bags. And with the seaglass, she has moved beyond just necklaces, now making earrings and candle holders.
Soon, we are walking down toward the beach, along a road that was once lined by the houses of Mrs. Fukuoka’s neighbors. Most have gone now, some taken by the surging sea, some moved on to other areas, some still stuck in temporary housing. Mrs. Fukuoka reckons all the neighbors who intend to return have already come back, a few family homes scattered around the desolation now overgrown with weeds and littered with debris. But for the ones who have chosen to return, they are very close, sharing a bond only those who survived such a traumatic event could share.
On the hill behind the Fukuoka house is the building where Mrs. Fukuoka watched the waters sweep over her neighborhood and eventually over her house. The presence of the hill and her instinct to run up it probably saved her life, but from that view, she watched the horror of the power of the tsunami unfold. The family dog, Kai-kun, was tied up at the house when the tsunami came. It wasn’t until the following day that she learned he had gotten free and somehow managed to swim to safety. Miracle number one.
Weeks later, as Mrs. Fukuoka struggled with the emotional weight of the disaster, she began to take Kai-kun for walks on the beach. The beach made Kai-kun happy and his happiness in turn made her happy. It was on one of those walks when Mrs. Fukuoka first saw the glimmer in the sand of a smoothly polished piece of seaglass. Garbage and other debris were constantly washing up on local beaches for months after the tsunami, but this seaglass, there was a beauty in it. Sure, most of it had probably gone into the ocean as a result of the tsunami but the sea had returned it in a new shape, as something beautiful. Miracle number two.
On her daily walks on the beach with Kai-kun, Mrs. Fukuoka would find many pieces of seaglass of all shapes and sizes. Using fine wire and nimble fingers, she creates unique necklace pendants and earrings. Many of her creations end up being given away to friends and other people she meets. Paul has purchased hundreds of her pieces to sell, helping raise awareness and funding for the movie project. But for her, it is part of her healing process, to take back from the sea something of beauty and use it to bless someone else.
Indeed, there is no better word to describe this woman than “blessing”. Instead of choosing hopelessness, bitterness or despair, she chooses to infuse beauty and love into the lives of others. As we sat around her table listening to her and her husband talk about their lives and family, it was obvious that they, like Kai-kun, were meant to live, meant to bring hope to the people around them.
The upcoming video was meant to be a blessing to Mrs. Fukuoka, to aid in her emotional healing by giving her an audience to hear her story. As we reluctantly said our goodbyes to her, it was less clear whether the blessing was on her or more so on us that day.