The simple question from my work colleague was “where did I get my umbrella?” It might look like an ordinary, cheap looking, clear plastic, black ribbed and black handled umbrella. But that umbrella is a link to disaster, resilience, hope and friendship.
Here is the story of my umbrella.
The last day of our trip to Japan. The morning in Kamaishi lingered through a misty start, with drizzle growing heavier into light but persistent rain. The Mother and Daughter team managing the Takakin Inn insisted Veronica and I take an umbrella to keep up dry for what is only a short stroll to the JR Station.
Giving is universal. But our initial reaction – made through gestures rather than language – was to decline the gift. I sensed tears of disappointment welling in both Mother and Daughter. This more than just an umbrella.
This was about providing us with a physical reminder of having been at the Takakin. That these two unlikely Australians has chosen to visit to Kamaishi, a town devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and then to stay at the family-run traditional inn amongst all the other accommodation options
Clearly, the monetary value of the umbrella is very low. The real value is in what the umbrella symbolises: the resilience of small family businesses like this, recovering from horrendous events, welcoming the trickle of returning Japanese visitors and the even smaller number of foreign visitors.
The Inn was not consumed by the tsunami, but those dreadful waves pushed to only metres away. In that chaos, death and destruction, the Takakin Inn became a refuge for the shocked, displaced and broken with this Mother and Daughter strong in their comfort and support to their community in need.
Mother and Daughter were aware of why we had come to Kamaishi. One evening a photo book chronically the disaster was drawn from the lounge bookcase and placed before me, like an exquisite meal. With that gesture, I understood that our decision to travel here was respected and valued. So how can people still be so kind, having that lived experience?
So on that final morning, maybe there was an expectation that the umbrella would be unceremoniously flung aside at few short minutes later having reached JR Kamaishi
All that I can do is write this story. To the Mother and Daughter: your umbrella is in safe hands.