River to...MANGATTAN

Karl Johnson's picture
Posted by Karl Johnson on
Wed, 03/27/2013

On a bluff overlooking the city of Ishinomaki, there stands a statue of a man in samurai garb. The man is Kawamura Magobe, who was famously commissioned around 1620 to make improvements to the Kitakami River. The various mergings, splittings, dredgings and carvings were responsible for turning Ishinomaki Port into one of the most important ports in Japan, supplying Edo (old Tokyo) with rice.

The statue of Magobe can see everything from this bluff. Likely, this painting was made near the spot where the statue now stands.
Old Ishinomaki

The hilltop is now a quiet park. Today, looking north, following the gaze of Magobe, lies the Kitakami River and downtown Ishinomaki. The damage is less dramatic, but just as apparent. Lashed to the railings of the outlooks are large posters of what the views looked like before the tsunami.
Ishinomaki - before and after

MagobeHard to say what Magobe's telling us these days

Turning south you see the Ishinomaki Bay, the original outlet of the Kitakami River, with flat land in the foreground stripped of all inhabitable buildings and replaced with new, large dumpings grounds for debris. Huge piles of construction debris are now nearly completely sorted by dozes of back hoes - including acres of broken and neatly stacked automobiles, stacks of unusable logs, warehouses of tin, and several new mountains of wood and siding.
Mouth of the river, and the Ishinomaki Bay

Ishinomaki, as Hiromi points out, is still a complex and...peculiar city, that's recovering from a disaster, but can rely on a strong identity and a ubiquitous sense of levity that makes things a bit easier, and a bit magical. One day, Miku, Nobu and I head out at midday to explore the waterfront, and discover some invariably odd Ishinomaki sights.

I'll try to let the pictures do most of the talking...

I. Maki Ishi

First stop of course is food. Maki Ishi, the ancient namesake of the city, was a distinctive stone in the river displaced by the tsunami. However, the restaurant Maki Ishi is still serving businessmen, merchants and families in Downtown. The restaurant's reputation preceded itself. Actually, even in the office that day, I got a text from Hiromi to check the place out, and it didn't take much to convice the girls. Let's just hope there's room...
Maki Ishi

Downstairs was crammed, but the hostess led us up a secret stair to a spacious upstairs dining room. Since seating was on the floor, the space seemed even larger.

Here are the menus...presumably. I let the girls order, and wonder what the heck this place is known for. Glimpses at neighboring tables didn't reveal much - all the plates were empty.
Menus ... presumably

We're served tea first, then miso soup and finally...THIS. It's a meatloaf with gravy and fried bean sprouts over top. Deeeelish! Miku and I both Instagram it for posterity.

II. Wandering

Sated, we go for a walk. Walking towards the river the town looks simllar to what we saw heading to the fish market - small, probably ancient, lots now awkwardly accommodating multi-story buildings, and plenty of cleared lots as well.
Downtown Ishinomaki
Some urban art accompanies all those manga character statues...
...and there's some new construction as well, albeit modest. This plaza to the right has some new shops in it, and the lot becomes an outdoor market when the weather's nice.
New Market
Still, many buildings seem untouched after two years. Think about it - if you're a store owner, maybe you're waiting for the government to decide how to rezone, but probably also you don't have the money to clean out a building that's been condemned, or maybe there's no point spending the money at any rate. Or maybe your old shop is far far down on a list of dismantlement or demolition. So many of these torn-out shops lie waiting for some unknown outcome.

Still here
But also everywhere there is rebuilding activity, and Ishinomakians haven't lost their pride and spirit. It helps, perhaps that their most iconic building of Ishinomaki withstood the tsunami. This is where we're heading.
Man hole cover

III. Mangattan

At last we arrive at the legendary Island of Mangattan - home of the equally-legendary Manga Museum. Interestingly (also, as Hiromi mentioned), the shape of the building meant the museum withstood the tsunami, while many other things on the island did not.
What remains are a boarded up church, two damaged but operational boat houses, and little  else.
Remaining buildings of Mangattan
Oh - and a Statue of Liberty!
Mangattan's statue of libertyShe keeps the faith. Somebody has strung Christmas lights up to the torch. (Note: Tokyo ALSO has a statue of liberty at the mouth of its river)

The Manga Museum is still closed for remodeling, but that doesn't stop us from taking some pics with its yard art.
Manga museum
Me an Seajetter
I get a side-by-side with what turns out to be the Patron Superhero of Ishinomaki: Seajetter Kaito.

Now, from what I understand, Seajetter Kaito darts along the Kitakami River on a jetski fighting evil mutants. Yeah.

After our walk, Miku uncovered this YouTube gem, a (well-)homemade gem of Seajetter Kaito duking it out with some mutant crabs on Mangattan Island. Then takes the battle into the woods. If you see this, prepare for a lot of starfish henchmen, tiny punch-explosions, materializing swords, crustacean cameos and a rocking soundtrack...