By YURI KAGEYAMA
TOKYO (AP) — Yoshie Minamidani’s heart leapt when she saw the stray tabby cat, a mainstay of the famous Asaichi Dori shopping street in Wajima city on the western coast of Japan.
Like the cat, she is a survivor of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that shook Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture and nearby regions on New Year’s Day, leaving at least 202 people dead, scores missing and buildings in shambles — including Minamidani’s seafood store.
“We are coming back. I’m determined,” she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday. “There is so much we must protect, although we are starting from scratch.”
Her chest tightened and she couldn’t speak when she first saw the lopsided storefronts, roof tiles shattered on cracked pavement, and yellow tape blocking the way to an entire section burned down by a fire.
“The Asaichi Dori I’d grown up with had vanished,” she said.
Japanese-style anchovies were among the containers of fish processed in various sauces that tumbled down the hillside from her processing plant’s storage area. She wasn’t sure when they could be retrieved, if ever.
They were precious, she said, requiring many days of hard, loving work.
Her city was among the hardest hit. Of the deaths, 81 were in Wajima, and Suzu had 91, while 102 people were still unaccounted for, and 565 people were injured. Tens of thousands of homes lacked running water or power. Many, including Minamidani, found their homes too damaged to inhabit.
The floors had collapsed in Minamidani’s store and the processing plant, rendering them too dangerous to live in. Luckily, another nearby house was still standing and is now home to nine people, including her husband, two children, and other relatives who had lost their homes.
The power was back, but still no running water.
Ishikawa counted over 1,400 homes that were destroyed or seriously damaged. Evacuation centers housed 30,000 people. Heavy snowfall and the more than 1,000 aftershocks raised the danger of more landslides.
Minamidani counts herself lucky. She was in the car with her husband and two children, on their way to a temple to celebrate New Year’s and pray for good fortune, when last Monday’s big quake hit. None of them were injured.
The beeping warnings for quakes went off on their cell phones. She called her mother to make sure she was OK.
The recently spotted cat, Chi-chan, is a neighborhood celebrity of sorts. Her twin, Dai-chan, has not been seen.
Minamidani grew up watching her grandmother get on the train with heavy loads of seafood to sell at the market. She ran back from school to help her prepare the fish.
She opened her store when she was 17, three decades ago.
Her motto is to remember that business connects people with people. Customers come to buy her fish, not just for the fish, but because they want to buy the fish from her. So she can’t let them see a sad face. She has to keep smiling.
Minamidani has already gotten together with about a dozen others in Wajima to rent a place in nearby Kanazawa city, relatively unscathed by the quakes, to restart their fish businesses together. They may have to use fish caught in other ports, as Wajima’s port and the boats there were badly damaged. Fishers in Wajima say more time is needed before they can go back out to sea.
She realizes some in Wajima have given up and are leaving. She is staying and will bring Wajima back, she said.
Minamidani recorded a video of the damage from her car and posted it to YouTube, complete with English translations by an app. “May as many people see this as possible,” is her title. She hoped people would send donations to help rebuild.
When things settle, she wants everyone to come visit, from other nations and from all over Japan. What’s great about Wajima is not just the seafood and the people, she said.
“Time passes slowly here,” Minamidani said. “When you gaze at the sunset, thinking about nothing, your heart becomes clean and pure.”
Yuri Kageyama is on X https://twitter.com/yurikageyama