Story in the Victor Valley Daily Press on August 12, 2013
By Rene De La Cruz, Staff Writer
VICTORVILLE • Less than a year after getting her driver’s license, Brittany Richart was hip-deep in debris from the Japanese tsunami.
“I looked at an open field and didn’t think much about it, until they told me there was a school, hospital and entire neighborhood that once stood there,” said Richart, 16, a Victorville resident who recently returned from a five-week trip to Japan.
Richart, who had never been overseas, visited the island nation at the suggestion of a family friend who works at Okutama Bible Chalet, a camp and retreat center situated 30 miles west of Tokyo.
A 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck northern Japan in 2011 and triggered a massive tsunami that killed thousands of people. Richart said almost two years after powerful waves swept away cars, homes, buildings, trains and boats, many people who don’t live in Japan think life is back to normal — but it is not.
“I spent time in Minamisanrik tearing out debris and mudding out a house,” said Richart, a junior at Apple Valley Christian School. “I also helped by cleaning cucumbers for a farm.”
Richart said she met an owner of a metal tank shop, whom she knew as Mr. Moto, who sent his family and workers to higher ground after the tsunami warning sounded.
Richart said as Mr. Moto waited at the shop for his other workers to return, he climbed a pole inside his building before flood waters rushed in and lifted him to the ceiling.
“Just as his head hit the ceiling with little room to breath, Mr. Moto thought that it would be his last day on Earth,” Richart said. “That is when the water slowly began to recede.”
According to Richart, Mr. Moto reopened his shop as soon as possible so that his employees could work and put food on the table.
Aside from her tsunami work, cleaning bathrooms at the retreat center and learning about Japanese food and culture, Richart climbed Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in the country at 12,389 feet.
“We arrived at the top at 2 a.m., hours before our goal of watching the sunrise,” Richart said. “It was about 30 degrees and none of the shops were open at the top, so we had to huddle together with about 20 other climbers in a small bathroom to stay warm.”
She said climbing up and down the mountain was beautiful but the sunrise was strange. The sky turned a pink hue before turning orange, Richart said.
“After I came back home, I also realized that every person in the body of Christ plays a significant part in the larger picture, and that we should not take the gospel for granted,” Richart said. “Watching the hunger of the younger kids at the camp as they asked questions was awesome.”
Richart said she was impressed by the Japanese culture, including the respect shown to elders and the way people express their gratitude.
“I’m glad to be home, but I did leave part of me in Japan,” Richart said. “But as much as I’d like to go back, I know I’m also needed here in the U.S.A.”
Rene De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227 or at RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com.