Six years after the tsunami

This is the twelfth part of our open-ended series to document the recovery of the tsunami-hit coast of northeastern Japan where nearly 20,000 people lost their lives, and entire towns were destroyed in the afternoon of March 11, 2011. Six years after the tsunami, we revisited some of the worst hit cities along the Sanriku Coast in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures and also drove down the coast of Fukushima Prefecture on April 24-26, 2017.

The enormous task of elevating the ground of coastal districts by several meters and re-enforcing the waterfront is finally approaching completion in many municipalities along the Sanriku Coast, clearing the stage for the actual rebuilding of the former town centers. Meanwhile, transportation along the coast is steadily becoming faster as new sections of the Sanriku Expressway are opened.

This time, we started our visit in Miyako City in Iwate Prefecture and followed the Pacific Coast southwards all the way to Tomioka City, south of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, before returning to Rikuzentakata to visit a newly opened shopping mall.

A gigantic seawall is constructed in the outskirts of Rikuzentakata
This seawall will be over ten meters tall
Mountains are moved to extend the Sanriku Expressway
New residential districts are being completed in large numbers on elevated land
A new residential area on elevated land

In Miyako, we revisited Jodogahama Beach where efforts to restore the infrastructure for tourists have mostly been completed. We stayed at the Jodogahama Park Hotel, which is attractively surrounded by pine trees and allowed for an early morning walk to the beach to witness the sunrise.

Badly hit Kuwagasaki district in Miyako City
Compare: April 2017 - April 2011

Reconstruction progresses in the Kuwagasaki district of Miyako City
Jodogahama Beach shortly before sunset
Jodogahama Beach shortly after sunrise

Toni district of Kamaishi City
Compare: April 2017 - April 2011

In Rikuzentakata, we visited the new Abasse Takata shopping center on its opening day. It is the first complex being opened in the former city center which was completely destroyed in March 2011 and has since been elevated by over ten meters in order to protect it from future tsunami. It was particularly satisfying to see the reopening of the Maiya supermarket whose ruins have for months shaped the skyline of Rikuzentakata's destroyed former city center. The city has also seen the completion of its new seawall along which a tsunami memorial park is being planned.

The Abasse Takata shopping mall opened on April 26
The new shopping mall drew a lot of interest

The Takata branch of the Maiya supermarket chain
Compare: April 2017 - April 2011

The Miracle Pine in front of the completed seawall
Rikuzentakata's seawall seen from across the bay
This former roadside station will become part of Rikuzentakata's tsunami memorial park
Rikuzentakata's planned tsunami memorial park

In Kesennuma, the badly damaged Shishiori district is gradually coming back to life. Elevated by a few meters, the district is seeing the completion of a growing number of new buildings, including massive apartment blocks that also serve as tsunami evacuation buildings.

Shishiori district of Kesennuma City
Compare: April 2017 - May 2016

Apartment blocks that also serve as tsunami evacuation buildings
Shops and restaurants return to the Shishiori district

In Minamisanriku, too, a new shopping center has opened on elevated land in the former town center. Initially opened further inland a year after the tsunami, the Sunsun Market moved to its new location this spring. Efforts are ongoing on fortifying the town's coastline and coastal districts. Access to Minamisanriku has become faster thanks to the extension of the Sanriku Expressway last October.

Central Minamisanriku
Minamisanriku's waterfront is starting to take form again
A worker

Central Minamisanriku
Compare: April 2017 - May 2016

Minamisanriku's former Crisis Management Center stands many meters below the city center's new surface
Minamisanriku's Sunsun Shopping Village
One of several restaurants offering local cuisine at the Sunsun Shopping Village

Further south, we also visited Onagawa and Ishinomaki to witness gradual process in the rebuilding of their coastal districts.

Mall in front of Onagawa Station

Central Onagawa
Compare: April 2017 - April 2015

Central Onagawa
Compare: April 2017 - April 2015

Badly hit coastal district of Ishinomaki viewed from Hiyoriyama Park
Compare: April 2017 - April 2011

Badly hit coastal district of Ishinomaki viewed from Hiyoriyama Park
Compare: April 2017 - April 2011

One year after our first journey down the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, we revisited Namie Town north of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant and Tomioka Town south of it. The evacuation order was lifted for wide areas of both towns on April 1 this year. So far, however, only very few shops have reopened, and reconstruction of damaged infrastructure is still ongoing (or has only just started). Not surprisingly, only a very small percentage of the former population has returned so far, and more time is needed to revive the two towns that have stood empty for over half a decade.

Radiation along the Joban Expressway between Minamisoma and Hirono ranges between 0.1 and 3.4 microsieverts per hour
Street in central Namie
The post office in Namie is one of the few businesses that have reopened
Waste in front of a beautiful building in central Namie
One of many buildings left damaged from the earthquake in Namie
Street in central Tomioka
Famous row of cherry trees in Tomioka that we reported from one week earlier
Parts of Tomioka remain in the no-entry zone

Trains returned to Namie earlier this month and are scheduled to start servicing Tomioka again from this October. Efforts are made to restart service along the entire Joban Line by spring 2020.

Scheduled train service to Namie Station has resumed
The only two passengers who arrived with the most recent train take a photo of Namie Station
Namie Station back in service
Destroyed by the tsunami, Tomioka Station is currently being rebuilt
Efforts to re-establish train service along the entire Joban Line
Repairing the Joban Line