There are no mountains on the map

Just over two weeks before I left London in April this year, Japan was rocked by a huge earthquake and  over 700 km of the coastline were devastated by the ensuing tsunami. A major nuclear incident near the city of Fukushima rendered acres of land an evacuation zone and scenes of the disaster filled the global news screens and dailies. Eight months on, the battle in Tohoku, this north eastern region of Honshu, continues.  Winter is nearly here meaning that battle will get harder. Global attention may have faded somewhat but the reality of the situation facing thousands of Japanese people has not and will not, for years to come. For some, the scars will never heal.

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Earlier this month while cycling my way south to the end of this first leg , I diverted east and pedalled out to the coast, specifically to the town of Ishinomaki. It was one of the worst hit towns. Thousands died here, including 80 children at a school of just over 100. I wanted to see what had happened there and I wanted to see what  I might be able to do to help. I was shocked, humbled and saddened by what I found – flattened neighbourhoods, ruined industries, poignant memorials to lost loved ones and mountains and mountains of debris. There are no mountains on the map at this point but, looking out to the periphery of the town and across it, a new landscape grows each day – the rubble piling higher and higher.

I was also inspired by what I saw in the quiet, determined efforts of local people to rebuild the town and their lives. I shall be returning to Ishinomaki next month to volunteer and hope to do so again and again before I leave for the ocean in the spring. I shall be doing so via  ‘It’s Not Just  Mud’, a brilliant not-for-profit set up by British man Jamie El-Banna. He quit his job in the UK in the summer to come to Japan and help. Their work is focussed on providing and improving food and shelter for local people through a number of supported projects and initiatives.

I asked Jamie what I could do to help, above and beyond volunteering my time and energies. He said warm clothing is needed urgently. As such, I need your help in raising some money to provide warm jackets for those in need in Ishinomaki. Given Japan’s ageing population and the lack of heating and hot water in many homes still, there are a lot of grannies facing a very cold winter. A fleece or warm blanket could really make a tangible difference to someone’s life in the cold months ahead. In fact, it could save a life.

Already the Stamford Endowed Schools and Barnsdale Lodge have very generously donated hundreds of pounds. I am keen to get it well up over £1,000. If you are able to donate a few pounds I would be super grateful. Details below.

Thanks and all best,

Sarah x

PS I am still committed to fundraising for my supported charities and will return to this in the new year.


The best way is to do so via a bank transfer to ‘Helping Hands for Japan’, a UK based charity who accept donations to pass on to groups like It’s Not Just Mud. Doing so allows Gift Aid to be added if you are a UK taxpayer. The money will then be transferred to buy winter clothes out here and we shall distribute in the town to those most in need.


Bank: Lloyds

Account Name: Helping Hands for Japan

Sort code : 77-23-09

Account number : 81927562

***** Please fill out the form here  to Gift Aid your donation and specify ‘Winter Clothing’ in the project choice.****

If you  cannot donate via bank transfer, then please use the Paypal account below.

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8 Responses to There are no mountains on the map

  1. BPC says:

    Thank you Sarah for all those details. It’s so good to know what’s going on even when the news cameras have left. I’m looking forward to hearing about the work you do when you return to Ishinomaki. I’ve just donated and gift aided. xx

  2. S Oliver says:

    Donation made, please take care of yourself and get plenty of rest before March 2012!

  3. Christine & Kathleen says:

    Hi Sarah

    What a moving account of the problems you are able to share with us, money and gift aid on its way, thats the least we can do to help other folks less fortunate than ourselves. Look forward to hearing how we can help in the future.

    Best wishes

    C & K

  4. Sarah says:

    Thanks very much guys – much appreciated indeed. I head up to Ishinomaki on the 12th.



  5. You are amazing. I wish I could do what you are doing, I think 🙂

    Just amazing. ¡¡Keep it up!!

  6. Angus GMackay says:

    I’ve just been looking at some of your videos and i was quite worried about the incident with the snakes.Iknow that your next leg of the journy is on water so there is virtually no chance of it happening then but i do worry it’ll happen the next time you are on land.Nobody likes to be bitten on the arse!!.Well it depends on the situation i suppose.

    ps If this is to rude to put on your blog i quite understand.

    pps If you decide to row in the all together remember google earth,you don’t want your white bits on show for all the world to see.

    ppps I’m fairly sure there is a guy up here in Stornoway who is trying to row from New York to Stormoway you could give him some tip for the journey.

    your rver vigilant Highland corispondant

  7. Chris Healy says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m on a round the world trip and have just connected with INJM; I stumbled across your blog on their website. I’m heading up to Ishinomaki tomorrow. Glad to see that you were there and I’m excited to get working. Safe travels,


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