- - Monday, January 9, 2012

KESENNUMA, Japan — Running a business in a battered economy in a tsunami-ravaged community is an exercise of hope and redemption for one man with a noodle shop.

“There’s a risk in starting a business now in a terrible economy in a disaster zone,” Yasuhiro Ishiwata, 28, said in his shop in this seaside town that was decimated in the March 11 tidal wave.

“But compared to the tsunami, there’s nothing to be afraid of anymore. I’m starting to believe that there is such a thing as tomorrow.”

More than nine months after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami destroyed half of his native city of Kesennuma, Mr. Ishiwata and many other survivors say they are finding a deeper meaning in the shocking tragedy that left perhaps 20,000 dead and missing in northeastern Japan.

Long before the tsunami, Mr. Ishiwata was cynical about Japan’s future and unsure about his direction in life. He did not want to join childhood friends who moved 300 miles south to Tokyo to live in cramped apartments and ride in crowded commuter trains.

Instead, he attended college in nearby Sendai and played both offensive and defensive tackle positions on the school football team, having learned the game from videos of the Super Bowl.

He then went to China in search of work but found love instead. He married a Chinese student and brought her back to live in his hometown, Kesennuma, where she gave birth to their daughter on Valentine’s Day 2010.

Lacking options, he worked along with 30 others in his father’s company, buying and selling shark fins in the port area that the tsunami later obliterated.

The tsunami wiped out the ports and much of the fishing fleet and sent Mr. Ishiwata and his family scurrying up a hill to safety. He watched the rushing wall of water drown others who could not escape. A massive fire broke out and engulfed half of the city.

He said he told himself, “This is the end; there is no tomorrow.”

For several dark winter nights, he drank sake and whiskey to keep from freezing to death. He used a cloth doused in alcohol to wash their baby.

Still traumatized a month later, he sent his wife and daughter to live with her parents in China. With no jobs in Kesennuma, he moved southwest down the coast to work in Choshi, Chiba province, which temporarily took over the shark-fin trade.

But his new boss, dealing with a bad economy and a global movement against serving shark-fin soup in restaurants, was insensitive to his plight.

Mr. Ishiwata quit and again joined the swelling ranks of the unemployed nationwide.

Passing through train stations, unsure where to go, he saw hundreds of homeless men, many from the disaster zone, sleeping on cold floors and streets. He wondered whether he would end up joining them.

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