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.

Most souvenir shops along the coastal main road had reopened already in October 2011
Compare: April 2012 - April 2011

Only a small number of stores remained closed to this date
Compare: April 2012 - April 2011

The stone lanterns in front of the Godaido Hall, which were destroyed by the earthquake, were finally rebuilt
Compare: April 2012 - October 2011

The passenger terminal at the cruise port of Matsushima has been repaired and reopened
The newly reopened passenger terminal
Repair works continue on the Fukuura Bridge, but the bridge is open to tourists

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.

Completely damaged coastal city districts of Ishinomaki
Compare: April 2012 - October 2011 - April 2011

Completely damaged coastal city districts of Ishinomaki
Compare: April 2012 - October 2011 - April 2011

The Ishinomori Manga Museum (white building) is located on this island
Compare: April 2012 - April 2011

The size of the debris mountain has barely changed compared to half a year ago
Compare: April 2012 - October 2011

Damaged Statue of Liberty near the Ishinomori Manga Museum
Repair works on the Ishinomori Manga Museum finally started in July 2012
Messages of encouragement on the walls of the Ishinomori Manga Museum
Central Ishinomaki is slowly recovering

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.

Clean up efforts have further progressed in Minamisanriku
Compare: April 2012 - October 2011 - April 2011

Clean up efforts have further progressed in Minamisanriku
Compare: April 2012 - October 2011 - April 2011

View from the platform of the former Shizugawa Station
Compare: April 2012 - October 2011 - April 2011

A bus service has returned to the destroyed Shizugawa Station in central Minamisanriku
Minamisanriku's Crisis Management Building, a symbol for the disaster and recovery
Many people continue to pray and lay down flowers for the victims
Fishing activities have resumed in the bay off Minamisanriku
Large piles of debris remain in central Minamisanriku
Large piles of debris remain in central Minamisanriku

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.

This ship, stranded several hundred meters inland, will become the centerpiece of a memorial park
Compare: April 2012 - April 2011

A small altar at the ship
View onto the port of Kesennuma City
An elderly man repairs an old storehouse
Opinions are divided about preserving or demolishing damaged buildings, such as this historic one

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

Recovery of a seafood processing and storage center
Compare: April 2012 - April 2011

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.

Rikuzentakata's pine tree
Central Rikuzentakata
Debris is steadily transported out of Rikuzentakata
The former city hall of Rikuzentakata
Remembering the victims at the former city hall
Rikuzentakata's new city hall is housed in this temporary building
Many businesses are opening in temporary housing, including this home center, ...
..., this delivery service, ...
... and this lunch box restaurant.

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.

In some districts, the demolition of damaged buildings was still ongoing
The Iron and Steel Museum about Kamaishi's leader position in iron production, reopened last September

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

A badly affected district of Miyako
Compare: April 2012 - April 2011

Boats are again docked along the seawall over which the tsunami poured into the city a year ago
The beautiful coastline around Jodogahama Beach is Miyako's most famous tourist attraction
A lone man at Jodogahama Beach
Visitor facilities at Jodogahama Beach are repaired and rebuilt for the return of tourists
Sightseeing cruises along the coast of Miyako were resumed in July 2011