This article appeared in the paper on Friday, October 14th. Here’s a rough translation.
As a result of the severe damage inflicted by typhoon #12, Okubanchi-ku, part of Hongu in Wakayama Prefecture, will hold a dissolution ceremony at its last neighborhood festival on November 5th. The 10 residents of the Ku have restarted their lives in other parts of Hongu, and thus will draw an end to the neighborhood of Okubanchi.
Okubanchi is the furthest neighborhood toward the mountains from Fushiigami; after crossing the Mikoshi River it’s a five minute drive up. Eight households live quietly, as if they surrounded a temple. The pure river there is known for ayu and amago sweetfish, drawing fishermen from many parts of the country.
The heavy rains of typhoon #12 set off a landslide 300 meters tall and 200 meters wide in the southern part of the neighborhood. Cut off by the slide, the river changed course and cut through the neighborhood. When the river subsided, all that was left of the temple, community center, and two households was a new valley.
The residents spent a few days at Hongu Junior High School, the evacuation center, and then moved in with family members or into vacant homes in the area. Yoshinori Nomoto (84) and his wife Mikiko (75) are living in Mikiko’s parents’ vacant house. They fled without any belongings, so Yoshinori walked back over the blocked road, crossed the valley, and recovered some of his valuables, including his mother’s ring and the family altar, from his mostly-crushed house. Not long thereafter, his house was fully destroyed by the next typhoon, #15.
“I knew Okuban was finished” when the landslide happened, says Mikiko. When her children visited from a different prefecture, they were at a loss for words but knew their parents had to move out. From December Yoshinori and Mikiko will be living in an apartment near Mikiko’s oldest daughter in nearby Nara Prefecture.
November 3rd is the official date of the annual festival at the Okubanku shrine. Knowing it’s the last one, the neighborhood residents are planning a grand sendoff. The neighborhood address records were washed away in the flood, so residents must rely on word of mouth to inform each other of the plans. The ceremonies have been planned for the 5th, a weekend day.
“It’s a small neighborhood and everyone’s friends. If we had young people living here we could get things going again, but we don’t have the power,” says Yoshinori, covering his eyes. “Because of this typhoon damage I was reminded of the kindness of people of Hongu. People are very good to us where we are staying now, and I wish I could continue our relationship with them here.”
Under the only house left unscathed by the flood and landslides is a taro patch. Mikiko has been growing them. “When it gets close to the festival I’ll dig them up. We might have a hundred people come,” she says. She’s looking forward to serving stewed taro to all of the guests at the dissolution ceremony.