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10 years after the Great East Japan Earthquake Comedy duo Sandwichman continue to support home region

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mikio Date, left, and Takeshi Tomizawa of the comedy duo Sandwichman speaks in Tokyo.

When the Great East Japan Earthquake hit on March 11, 2011, Mikio Date and Takeshi Tomizawa of the comedy duo Sandwichman were filming in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, which was hit hard by the disaster. The comedians, who are both from Sendai, have visited areas affected by the disaster ever since. Five days after the quake, they established a donation fund and directly distributed money received from people across the country to disaster-hit areas. They spoke to the Yomiuri Shimbun about how reconstruction efforts are going in their home region. The following is excerpted from the interview.

Mikio Date: We continue to support reconstruction efforts in the area affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake because it’s our home, more than anything else. About 20,000 people died, and there may have been people among them who supported us. So we’d like to repay the favor.

Takeshi Tomizawa: It may have a lot to do with the fact that on the day of the disaster, we were there [in Kesennuma].

Date: We could have died if we had evacuated to the wrong place.

Tomizawa: I feel like it was fate that we were there, like we were there so that we would do something.

Date: We don’t want to use the word “death” in our shows anymore, because we don’t want to remind people of the tsunami.

Tomizawa: We’ve become more reserved. Although, the essence of getting our audience to laugh remains unchanged.

Date: It’s often said that reconstruction has been slow, but I think it has been progressing fast because the [disaster-hit] areas were a real mess. We see people working themselves into a sweat every day, and we see things being renewed little by little, so we can’t say reconstruction has been slow. Those who live there are allowed to say that, though.

Tomizawa: I heard that land cannot be touched unless the permission of all the landholders has been obtained, so I imagine it would take a long time to rebuild. In areas other than the places affected by the disaster, I wonder if people are prepared.

Date: The pace of reconstruction also differs depending on the location. In Miyagi Prefecture, reconstruction efforts in the cities of Iwanuma and Natori are almost complete, but it is not progressing in Ogatsu in the city of Ishinomaki. There are about 2,500 people listed as missing in some areas, and people are still looking for the remains of their loved ones every day. They say things like, “I’d be happy to find even a small trace.”

Tomizawa: I think it’s all right if the pace of reconstruction is not uniform.

Date: Going forward, I’d like people to pay closer attention to Fukushima. For instance, there are still areas that are uninhabitable, and it will take another 30 years for the nuclear power plant to be decommissioned. Young locals have been working at the nuclear plant, saying, “We will get the plant decommissioned.” Seeing such efforts changes the way you think.

Tomizawa: The one thing we can do is visit frequently, and tell people elsewhere of the things happening there.

Date: It is said that memories of the disaster have faded now that a decade has passed. But it would be strange for people to remain as active as they were back then. I’d like people to go and pay a visit once the coronavirus pandemic is under control. I’d like people who volunteered in the region to go back again and see what has become of the places where they cleared mud away, for instance. I’m glad we are comedians because when we go there, even people who won’t respond to news reporters talk to us.

Tomizawa: When we ask local residents bluntly: “You carry a large debt, don’t you?” some would say candidly, “I’ve introduced machinery costing tens of millions of yen!” They must be having a tough time, but I am glad when they talk with a laugh.