A Martial Artist’s Letters From Sendai
Surviving tragedy often changes what people value in life. That’s true for one martial artist in Dallas’ Friendship City of Sendai, Japan, who lived through the worst earthquake in the country’s history.
Toshiaki Takaya, a 42-year old employee in the finance department at Sendai’s Miyagi University, has written to KERA as part of our continuing series Letters from Sendai When neighborhoods in Sendai crumbled under the force of the great 9.0 level earthquake, Takaya tried to stay focused on his longtime goal of qualifying for the national martial arts competition.
While those left homeless by the disaster stood in food lines and moved into shelters, Takaya returned to his martial arts dojo and continued to train.
In three letters, Takaya writes about his devotion to martial arts and his rigorous training for a national competition. When the disaster forced the cancellation of an all-important qualifying tournament, Takaya was crushed. But as he’s volunteered in one of the most damaged Sendai neighborhoods he has found a new purpose in life.
KERA’s Shelley Kofler and Kioto Kawakami of the Japan-America Society of Dallas/Fort Worth recorded broadcast excerpts from the letter.
KERA Broadcast of Toshiaki Takaya Letters:
Takaya is a 42-year old employee in the finance department at Sendai’s Miyagi University, whose life was centered around martial arts- until the earthquake hit.
When neighborhoods in Sendai crumbled under the force of the great earthquake, Takaya tried to stay focused on his longtime goal of qualifying for the national martial arts competition. While those left homeless by the disaster stood in food lines and moved into shelters, Takaya returned to his martial arts dojo and continued to train. He wrote his first letter in April, a month after the earthquake.
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Takaya: For more than 20 years, I have been practicing in mixed martial arts called Kudo which is based on karate.
I was working hard practicing for the Tohoku regional qualifying tournament to earn a chance to compete in the Hokutoki All Japan Championship, which was going to be held in my hometown, Sendai.
However, the Great East Japan Earthquake hit on March 11 and changed my life entirely.
Tayaka: How carefree of me while people are lining up for supplies, I thought. But I also thought, as someone who talks regularly about the spirit of martial arts and mental training, that I should not get my mind stirred up even by the disaster.
But the disaster did stir up Takaya’s mind when organizers cancelled a qualifying match and Takaya saw his dream slipping away.
Takaya: It was heartbreaking for me since I had been training so hard for it. I was frustrated and furious.
At work, Takaya joined university staff in distributing relief supplies and in caring for students left orphaned or homeless by the disaster. Then for the first time in his life Takaya became a volunteer.
Takaya: I signed up to personally volunteer in the Arahama district in Sendai, where the tsunami damages were particularly grave.
Arahama District of Sendai where Takaya is volunteering.
I was being moved by hatred for the earthquake, and by resentment at losing a chance to compete in the national tournament.
Hell is the word I would use to describe the condition of the Arahama district. It looks just as if it had been in a war and bombed. It takes several volunteers days to clean up one house.
No matter how much I work, there is no end in sight. I am reminded of how powerless I am.
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In June, three months after the earthquake Takaya, wrote to say the All Japan Tournament had been rescheduled. He’d been invited to participate and performed well but did not win. The winner, he said, was an exceptional man who taught him an exceptional lesson.
Takaya: Suzuki, from Ishimaki City, was in his car driving when the tidal wave swept him away. He was able to pull himself out to safety and escape with his life.
In some areas of Japan school gymnasiums are still being used as shelters. This photo was taken in Kessenuma near Sendai in April. Credit: Warren Antiola (cc) flickr
Just as he did in the life or death situation, he showed the same courage and determination at the tournament. He kept coming back from near losses.
I will take that inspiration with me in my training towards the next competition, and into the future, too.
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The martial artist who at first fought the distraction of disaster is now clearing away its muck and rubble with the same competitive passion. In a letter this month Takaya wrote about finding a new purpose in life by helping his city recover.
Takaya: I continue to stay with the volunteer activities, partially because I want to help the people in need. Moreover, I do it because I feel that being a part of the recovery is my calling in life.
The actual work I do mainly consists of debris and mud removal from the residential areas where the tsunami caused a tremendous amount of damage.
A woman wading through debris near Sendai airport shortly after Marines and Soldiers started cleaning and repairing the airport Credit: Mark Stroud (cc) flickr
Irrigation canals and sewer lines were filled and clogged with mud and debris, and each time it rains there are areas that flood because of poor drainage.
It may be that God is telling me, “Your mission is to endeavor in the recovery effort.”
I am actually not a religious person and have not been particularly interested in God. However, being in this current situation, I cannot help but feel that this was my fate.
I have always strived for peace and have never taken life for granted. Therefore, I believe in this recovery effort as something that is worth pouring everything my life is supposed to be.
In Sendai, Japan,