The Paprika Farmer

Paprika (パプリカ)
That’s what we call bell peppers in Japan.
Apparently it is the Hungarian word for pepper.
I love paprika.
But they are so expensive!
Almost 200 yen for just one in some stores!
The reason behind this is that
most paprikas are imported from abroad.
It’s said that over 90% of our paprikas
are from the Netherlands and South Korea.
And actually paprikas weren’t even introduced to Japan until
the ban of fresh produce from the Netherlands was lifted in 1993!
So why am I so interested in paprikas so suddenly?
Because of this nice man in the picture.
Doesn’t he have a great smile?
We met him at the local shop we went to for lunch
during our weekend in Miyagi.
He was sitting in the table next to us and
asked us where we were from and what we were doing.
(they’re all really friendly like that in Miyagi)
We told him we were helping out one of the paprika farmers.
He told us he was a paprika farmer, too.
He had tons stories about his experience with paprikas and
explained to us how he was slowly rebuilding after
everything was swept away after the tsunami.
And when we expressed our love for paprikas
he invited us over to his paprika farm!
His paprikas growing inside the large greenhouses
had mostly all been harvested for the season.
But he gave us a bag full of yellow and green paprikas
saying that they were the leftovers that could not be sold.
Which is crazy.
They were beautiful.
He also let us eat some fresh paprika right there.
Not only was it juicy
but it was sweet like a fruit!
So delicious.
I felt super lucky to be able to take so many home with me.
He even gave me the string of dried persimmon!
What a sweet man.
I’m constantly touched by
how generous some people can be.
And I love the friendships that come from it.
Of course, we promised to
help out during the next paprika harvest.
I can’t wait to learn how they harvest paparikas!

The Day in Miyagi

Our day helping out at the paprika farm
starts by waking up at 6:30 am.
(Although I hit snooze once…or sometimes twice.)

We eat breakfast at 7:00 am.

One of our local volunteer friends always lets us stay over.
We all really appreciate his hospitality.

We head to the volunteer center at 8:00 am.

The snow outside was amazing.
Everything was white and shimmering.

This is the old town hall that was damaged by the earthquake.
The deconstruction has started already.
We make our way to the site and start working at 9:00 am.
This day our job was to construct
the inner poles for three greenhouses.
We dug holes in the ground.
We hammered.
It was great.
I think I like manual labor.
We took a lunch break at 12:00 pm.
We always go to a local place to eat
and get to interact with the people there.
Everyone is so friendly.
We headed back to the site at 1:00 pm.
We ended for the day at 3:00 pm.
The sun sets a lot faster up north
so have to stop working pretty early.
But it felt good to be working outside under the sun!
And here is a picture of our team that day.

So this is a typical day volunteering in Yamamoto-cho.
It’s always a wonderful experience
working together as a team and seeing the improvements.
And above all, it’s a great feeling
to see the farmers smile with satisfaction.

That Summer Weekend in Miyagi

Coffee is definitely a must
when driving from Tokyo to Miyagi 
from 11pm on a Friday night.
(well, I slept most of the way…)
But really really excited to be back in Yamamoto.

We always stay with a local friend
and make breakfast together.
Volunteering to help out local farmers.
Ready to get down and dirty.

This was my first time stepping into a plastic greenhouse.
We were helping out at a strawberry farm.
Learned so many new things
both about farming strawberries and building greenhouses.

Working all day under the sun was very hot.

But the cool breeze from the ocean
made it much easier on us.

We filled planters with soil for the strawberries
to prepare it for the planting process.
It’s amazing how much you can acomplish
when you’re all working together.
It’s the best.

I learned that the greenhouse is a very complex structure.
Like how you can remove the
entire front wall to bring large machines inside.
Or how heavy the actual wall is.
The farmers who deal with this are amazing.

After our working hours
we were actually given an award!
We got to taste strawberry jam
made from strawberries picked from this farm.
And it was delicious!!!
Yamamoto strawberries really are the best!!!

K wearing her Yamamoto tshirt.
It says
“Bring our Hearts Together.”

We stopped by the local fishing port.
Yamamoto’s only fishing port.
Entrance was prohibited until a while ago
but now that the rebuilding of the embankment has begun
there were actually a few boats floating in the port.
We stood there a moment
looking at the boats.
“Every time I come back there’s one more boat,”
K said in a quiet tone.
For some reason what she said made an impression on me
as we sat there, listening to the sound of waves.
Looking out to sea.

Before dinner, we stopped by an onsen.
The rotenburo (outdoor onsen) felt amazing
after a day of working under the sun.

Meeting up with our
local volunteer friends for dinner.

Stopping by the supermarket for a nightcap 🙂

The next day we helped clear a field.
Again, everything is so fast
when we all work together as a group.

Shimi-ten (凍天) is a local treat.
It’s a doughnut with sweet bean paste inside.
So delicious.
Group picture, including the dog.
So blessed to have this opportunity.
To come here with friends
and to interact with local acquaintances.
Yamamoto, I’ll be back soon. x

That Weekend in Yamamoto Recovering Photographs

*Throwback Thursday: I’m slowly (very slowly) going to be bringing my old posts to this blog.
“I’ll be back…”
Ever since parting with those words
I was once again back in the town of Yamamoto.
Familiar faces at the town hall
quickly turn to smiles when eyes meet.
“You really came back!”
Yes, I did.
So glad I did.

This time it was for photographs.
“What would you take from a burning house?”
One of those what-if questions
that people always ask each other.
Even when I was younger
my answer to this was always he same.
The project I participated in
recovers photographs.
Memory Salvage.
These photographs found on the shore of Yamamoto
by the Self Defense Force after the tsunami.
The project not only tries to recover
but also hopes to return them to the owners.

Piles and piles of photographs.
Most covered with dirt.
Some already with mold.
The photos already documented and cleaned
are placed in a categorized library.
Already locals were looking through the library.
Looking for their past memories
they lost in the tsunami.
We worked in teams.
Cleaning off the dirt.
Digitizing each photograph.
The photo albums smelled like the sea.

Photographs of children in their Shichi-go-san kimonos.
Others of merry coworkers at a company nomikai.
Some too far damaged to ever recover.
This may not directly help the locals.
We didn’t rebuild houses or farmlands.
But this project called to me.
Because photographs are special to me.
And if there is even one survivor in Yamamoto
looking for a lost photo of loved ones
…I hope this project leads them to it.

That Week Volunteering in Yamamoto

*Throwback Thursday: I’m slowly (very slowly) going to be bringing my old posts to this blog.

My company surprises me sometimes.
They rolled out Volunteer Vacation Days
for up to 7 days of paid leave.
So I signed up.
Knowing I wouldn’t be of much help in heavy labor
I chose to help out for a week at a soup kitchen.

This is the town of Yamamoto
in the prefecture of Miyagi.
Before the tsunami
they had a population of 16,695.
A small peaceful town.
The tsunami killed over 600 people
and approximately 80% of the land was affected.

This soup kitchen wasn’t for the temporary shelters
that were in place for the tsunami survivors.
This soup kitchen was for the town hall employees.
The employees themselves are survivors,
some of who’ve lost family.
Some who work all day at the town hall
only to go back to their cars to sleep at night.
Some who were here from a different prefecture
to help with the disaster relief and the lack of employees.
Our soup kitchen provided them 3 meals a day.

I had an image of sandwiches
or an onigiri, when it came to soup kichens.
But this one had various produce
and our menu was based on what we had.
I am not the greatest cook.
But one the first day
I was handed lemons, sweet potatoes,
and a “yoroshiku (do your best).”
Almost thought hard labor would have been better.
But with the help of CookPad
I spent the week cooking like never before.
I think I actually like cooking.

But there were, of course, many thoughts
throughout my time as a volunteer.
Some of us would talk together
during our bath time.
The employees that we would see daily
are all smiles and jokes.
Hiding their pain and worries.
Some would ask us why we were volunteering.
“Because I want to help”
somehow felt too light, too casual.
I wouldn’t be able to answer.
They would thank me for coming.
Again, no words.
What do you say to that.
There was no way we could say
You could see the strain.
They were doing that and more
all on their own.
But spending a week in Yamamoto
cooking and chatting with the employees.
“Oishi-katta-yo! (Delicious!)”
“Meal time is the best!”
These words from the employees
made my heart burst with happiness.
Those are the times I felt I did my job as a volunteer.
Made them smile
even if for a little while.
So glad I came to Yamamoto.
Now that I’ve been here,
I’ll be back.