Usuki Tomoko, 35, housewife, Kobe-shi, Nagata-ku
The sky is moving further away. These days, I look up into the sky more often than before. Maybe, it is a kind of self-defense because I have the habit of casting my eyes down. This year, the four seasons are clearly defined -- heavy rain, scorching heat, and a sudden nip of fall in the morning and evening. These distinctly defined seasons seem to expedite the flow of time.
In the morning of January 17th, 1995, I was preparing a lunchbox in my house at Kobe-shi Suma-ku for my eldest son, who went to the kindergarten, when the kitchen floor began to rise. The house was then thrown around drastically as if a monster were toying with it. The refrigerator, the utensil shelves and everything else were thrown at me. The confusion lasted less than 20 seconds but it felt longer, much longer then.
I heard my husband calling out from the second floor. He and our two
children seemed unhurt. Then, I suddenly realized I could not move. The kettle
of water that I had just placed on the stove burner spilled on me. I trembled
in the darkness alone feeling cold and frightened. It was dawn when all of us
finally managed to escape on our own from the collapsed house. The landscape
that we were used to had changed completely. But none of the evacuated victims,
including my family, showed any sign of panic. I felt a strange sense of
emptiness. We hopped into my brother-in-law’s car, and took refuge in Tarumi-ku.
Still in fear of the aftershocks, we watched the scenes of the disaster on TV in my brother-in-law’s condominium. My mind went blank when I saw that Nagata-ku was engulfed in flame. My husband and I ran a machining operation, which was part of the chemical shoes industry. Our workshop was shown on TV as fire spread to it.
The next day, we could not bear to sit around doing nothing. So my husband
and I hopped on a 50 cc motorbike and headed towards our workshop. We rode from
Tarumi to the old Shinmei before coming to the Rikyuu Park in Suma. The landscape of these places was drastically different, as if
we had come to the border separating heaven from hell. We made detours to go
around roads that had become inaccessible and got to our workshop in Nagata. It
was still there. I felt exhausted and my tears keep filling my eyes.
The workshop had suffered more damages than expected. We walked around with our shoes on. Some machines were found and a few units were spoilt. On the floor the leather pieces (shoe leather) ordered by some makers were scattered about and were covered in mud. My husband went on the bike to see our customers. When he returned a few hours later, he simply said, ‘All of them are down.’
A few days after the earthquake, I decided to leave my two children, a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy with my parents in Kakogawa although I had never lived apart from them. I had lost my house, the prospect of our business was bleak, and I had no idea when the whole family could live under one roof again. I could not stop my tears when I thought of all these on the returning bus. I felt sorry for those who had lost their loved ones in this earthquake, but it was very painful for me to send my children away.
The chemical industry has a broad base. My husband was doing all his could to contact the mold-markers, cutters, home workers, holt-melt operators and machining operators, but almost all the makers in the chemical industry had lost everything to the quake. Our operation could not be resumed. My husband was 43, and had succeeded this business from his parents. His favorite phrase was, ‘As long as man walks, he needs a pair of shoes’, but now he was speechless.
We wanted to stay in the semi-destructed workshop for the time being, and
only spend our bedtime in my brother-in-law’s place. The rest of the time, we
spent tidying up the workplace. It took us hours to remove the broken rooftop
and the rubble of the external walls. Then we hanged up blue sheets to serve as
walls. We were beside ourselves working because we wanted to have our children
by our side. Somehow, I thought we could make it if we stayed together.
Slightly more than a month after the quake, I set out to fetch my children. Late February, my daughter joined us and my son started going to kindergarten.
Around spring, it was reported in the newspaper that 70 per cents of the
makers in the chemical industry had recovered. Actually, these makers did have
work for their goods in stock, and we received some orders from them too. It
seemed then that we were going to recover from our unemployed state.
By late June, we managed to finish repairing the workshop. Small orders began to come in but we were unsure as to where we were heading. The four of us stayed in a cramped six-mat space. For the sake of our children, we began to harbor the idea of rebuilding our house. We decided to demolish and rebuild our house in Suma.
After the recovered makers ran out of their goods-in-stock orders, we again went out of business. Autumn was drawing near but the activity level was still low. My husband joined force with home workers and was actively seeking out makers to get work.
We felt uneasy, as we were making do with an income about one-third of that before the quake. My husband had even thought of quitting the machining business, but decided to bet his luck on it, “Nagata’s chemical industry won’t remain like this forever.” Although we have lost many things in this quake, I just want to move on with my family.