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One year after the tsunami

This is the third part (see also part one and part two) of an open ended series to document the recovery of the tsunami hit coast of northeastern Japan, where approximately 20,000 people lost their lives, and entire towns were destroyed in the afternoon of March 11, 2011.

One year after the tsunami, we revisited some of the worst hit cities along the Sanriku Coast in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures on April 16 and 17, 2012. Overall, the scenery in the affected towns has not changed dramatically since our last visit in autumn 2011.

Road infrastructure has further improved. Traffic lights have increased. Bus services have resumed. In terms of transportation, only the train lines remain mostly interrupted, and along some sections may not be reconstructed, at all. The number of convenience stores and a whole range of other shops and restaurants - housed in temporary buildings - has increased considerably. But permanent reconstruction has not visibly started yet.

Half a year ago, the immense amount of debris had mostly been collected into large mountains already. But in part due to the lack of support by the rest of the country to accept and process the debris, the size of the mountains has not noticeably changed since our last visit. In some locations, the process of tearing down damaged buildings was still ongoing.

Matsushima, a major tourist destination outside of Sendai, escaped major damage by the tsunami thanks to its protected location inside an island dotted bay. Matsushima had well recovered already half a year ago, and it looked even better this time.

Our next stop was Ishinomaki City, where more lives and homes were lost than in any other municipality. While life is gradually returning into the less damaged city center, the completely damaged coastal city districts remained mostly unchanged from half a year ago.

We continued the coast northwards to Minamisanriku, whose entire town center was destroyed by the tsunami on March 11. Clean up efforts here have further progressed and traffic lights have increased, but most of the former city center remains an empty flatland.

Further north we stayed overnight in Kesennuma. Here, too, the clean up efforts have further progressed, but actual, large-scale reconstruction has not started yet.

On our way between Kesennuma and Rikuzentakata, we were glad to come across a first example of completed reconstruction:

The city of Rikuzentakata was almost completely destroyed by the tsunami. Clean up efforts had already well advanced last autumn, but mountains of debris still remained prominent today. The sole pine tree, which survived the tsunami out of a large coastal forest, has died in the meantime due to salt in the soil, but efforts are ongoing to preserve it as a symbol of recovery.

Outside of central Rikuzentakata, a town of temporary buildings is providing a steadily increasing range of shops and services. In the beginning it consisted of little more than a supermarket. Now, it offers multiple convenience stores, a home center, banks, a cleaning shop, hair dresser, cafe, and more. The city hall, too, is located in temporary housing.

We then revisited Kamaishi, another 40 kilometers up the coast, where the demolition of buildings was still ongoing in some of the city's districts.

We ended our journey up the Sanriku Coast in Miyako, which has restarted to promote its beautiful coastline as a tourist destination this year.