The Will to Rebuild

Bukit Brown Cemetery

Photo by Robin Low

Dr Suda is a practicing dentist who lives in Ishinomaki whose practice was destroyed during the Tohoku tsunami on 3/11/2011. I visited Dr Suda is his newly rebuilt dental clinic in Ishinomaki, together with Robin Low of Relief 2.0, to see how Dr Suda is faring since the disaster a year ago.

In the past year what were the difficulties you faced when you were rebuilding your dental clinic?

Most of the clinic was destroyed by the tsunami. Structural repairs to the building were needed and I had to repurchase most of my equipment. The most expensive of which was the x ray machine. I am already over 70 years old but I took out a business loan to be able to buy the new equipment. I want to work and earn enough to be able to pay off the loan. I would consider being able to do that as an achievement in of itself. (laughs) It makes me happier to be able to work. I lost much during the disaster but being able to work allows me to put aside the pain of loss and give my life purpose. I want to keep practicing for at least another 5 years. If my son, who is in Tokyo and is also a dentist, decides to move back to Ishinomaki, he can return and take over my practice.

How long did it take for you to reopen your business?

2 months.

(Dr Suda walks over into the X ray room of the clinic and runs his hand against a portion of the wall. The partition bears a grey undercoat and is unpainted over.)

I rebuilt this wall myself.  I used the original wall that was wrecked by the tsunami as this new wall’s foundation.

Do you keep anything in remembrance of the tsunami?

These dental forceps still come in handy despite technological leaps in dentistry. They were with me when I started my practice with and they have remained with me through the decades. I was going through the clinic looking for whatever survived and I found the forceps still on their rack, a little dirty from the mud but they managed to survive intact. I hold onto them now to remind myself to keep my practice going. (Smiles)

When your brother visited you last year, did he help you clean up and repair the clinic?

Yes, he came to Ishinomaki specifically to check on me and helped me out where ever he could. He was here for the clean up and rebuilding. I asked him if he would be interested in partnering up with me to run this practice as a duo but my brother said he simply wants to retire. It’s like traditional Japanese music: the singing of brothers. I wanted to have a duet with my brother but it is not possible because he wants to retire. (laughs)

One year has gone by since the disaster, how are you feeling now? It seems like the city reconstruction and recovery is well on its way and there seems to be many construction projects going on around town. How does watching the reconstruction make you feel?

We used to have daily town hall meetings to discuss our plans for the future of Ishinomaki and to crowd source for aid and expertise from the community. I often played my harmonica at these meetings. I wanted to use the music to encourage the townsfolk who were depressed to cheer them up and urge them to reopen their businesses. I was one of the first in Ishinomaki to restart my business. After I reopened my clinic, my neighbors felt inspired. They too wanted to restart and so they began their own reconstruction efforts.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that faces your business and the city itself for the recovery?

It takes a lot of determination to start over when you have lost everything. I want to resume my practice. Ishinomaki is my home and I will not move away to abandon it just because it is easy. I am not the only one who is rebuilding. All the survivors in town want to revive Ishinomaki; we are of the same mindset. We will persevere and rebuild. As long as we have the will to restart, we will be able to restore Ishinomaki. I want the world to know about how I have managed to restart my practice. I want people who have been through similar experiences to know that we should not give up when tragedy strikes. We are lucky enough to be alive despite the dire circumstances that we have been in. As long as we have the will to begin a fresh, we can rebuild our lives and our home.

I want everyone to know: It gets better. Keep going. It will get better.

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