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[The Story of Waseda-Town]

Mr. Eiji Ishii

Naruko-Waseda Baths-Pledging restoration through the excavation of hot springs

Located in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, the Naruko Onsen (Hot Spring) Village possesses over a thousand years of history, including the remains of ruins and ancient roads related to Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune and Matsuo Basho. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, many of the hot spring inns became emergency shelters and offered relief to distressed disaster victims. Similarly, young people also found relief at this hot spring village in the summer of 1948, immediately after the end of WWII. At that time, seven students from the School of Science and Engineering, Waseda University, succeeded in excavating a joint bathhouse known as "Waseda Baths" as part of practical training. We spoke with Eiji Ishii (83 years old), who was one of the seven students. Mr. Ishii says that he received indescribable hospitality at the hot spring village during a time when goods were rare and food was scarce.

(*Reprinted from the 2011 Alumni Newsletter "Seihoku no Kaze")

Devastation caused by losing the war

The seven Waseda student pose in front of a drilling tower used in the excavation. Mr. Ishii is third from the left.

Mr. Ishii's house was destroyed by air raids during the war and he commuted to university from his mother's family home in the Kita Ward of Tokyo. The university had also been damaged during the war and mountains of rubble were strewn across the campus. Expensive experimental equipment had also been damaged. Melted glass from the sample room was stacked on the roof of the building. Rations were scarce at that time and many people were forced to live inconvenient lifestyles.

During such spartan times, seven students participated in a drilling project as part of practical training at the university. Although they were participating in practical exercises, the students were filled with a strong conviction to aid in the reconstruction of Japan after losing WWII. Throughout Japan, there was a desire to use technology for supporting the recovery of a devastated Japan. The excavation of hot springs was proposed by Naruko Town just as the period of practical exercises was nearing its end.

Every day, the students worked to excavate a hot spring under the burning hot sun. They stripped to the waist and wore square hats. Their skin was tanned to a dark brown as they worked until night, taking orders from the employees of a drilling company. "At that time, we never knew if we would have food to eat," says Mr. Ishii. "So, inevitably, the conversation always turned to food." The students' greatest pleasure was the food provided by the town's Japanese inns, consisting white rice and side dishes made from mountain foods. Gifts were also received every day from a hospital near the drilling site. The students were brought piles of zunda rice cakes and kinako rice cakes, as well as watermelon and corn. Such plentiful food was like a dream to the students.

Gushing hot spring

The Naruko-Waseda Sajiki Baths, featuring a modern building designed by Professor Ishiyama

The excavation was faced with a series of problems such as broken pipes and dislodging of the rod used to dig through the earth. Despite hard work, the team was yet to discover a hot spring. At the end of summer vacation, the students negotiated with the university to have the project period extended. They continued the excavation into September. One day, after returning to their inn from work and falling into a deep sleep, the students were awoken by the loud cry of a local man who burst into the inn-"The hot spring is gushing up!" he cried. "I jumped out of bed and ran to the excavation site," says Mr. Ishii. "The hot spring was gushing forth loudly." The heavy drill and the drilling tower were shaking due to the power of the flowing water.

"Then, one of the project members climbed to the top of the shaking tower and all seven of us began singing the Waseda school song Miyako no Seihoku. It was heartfelt moment for us," recalls Mr. Ishii. The hot spring was named "Waseda Baths." In 1998, the hot spring was reborn into a yellow building made in the image of sulfur. The building was designed by Professor Osamu Ishiyama of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University. The new facilities were renamed the "Naruko-Waseda Sajiki Baths."

Spirit of hospitality

After the Great East Japan Earthquake, the five hot spring sites which compose Naruko Onsen Village were used as secondary emergency shelters. A large number of lodging facilities accepted a total of more than 1,000 disaster victims. "Since long ago, Naruko has a history of accepting disaster victims," says Mr. Junichi Yoshida, General Manager of Naruko Town-Building Association, an organization which operates the Naruko-Waseda Sajiki Baths, and Executive Director of Naruko Onsen Tourism Association. "Immediately following the earthquake, we delivered 20,000 eggs which were slow-boiled in hot springs to Minami-Sanriku Town, which had been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. We also operated a temporary direct bus between our hot springs and Sendai in order to offer refreshment to disaster victims who were unable to take baths." One married couple came to Naruko Onsen Village from an emergency shelter at Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant after Onagawa Town was struck by the disaster. "I felt real family warmth while staying at the hot spring village," says the wife. "They even helped me to find part-time work. I am truly grateful."

"We had discovered a hot spring and finished our long practical training. It was finally time for us to return to Tokyo," fondly recalls Mr. Ishii. "The locals in Naruko told us to take rice back to Tokyo with us. At that time, rice was a valuable commodity and people were unable to obtain rice except for rationed amounts. They also gave us traditional kokeshi dolls to take with us. The doll I received is still in my house today and is a reminder of my time in Naruko. Strangely enough, although life was difficult during that time, I don't have any gloomy memories. Instead, I remember stellar days in which we put all our effort into establishing the hot spring."

"After losing the war, everyone was in the same position," he reflects. "We had no idea how life would turn out, but we spent everyday living to the fullest and searching for new possibilities. I learned that it is important to gain happiness from the small things in everyday life. I know that mainly people are suffering through life at emergency shelter after the recent earthquake. I believe that it is important to stay positive and try to be patient."