3/11: Recovery and Rebuilding
Four years have passed since the biggest earthquake devasted Japan's Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.
No one could forget the scene, once people have watched the video of the tsunami that swept away all the houses, cars and people on that day. Now, how is the current situation in these areas?
Ishinomaki City in Miyagi prefecture is one of the cities where the tsunami came. Rubbles were covering most of the places just after the earthquake and tsunami. For the past four years, people took off the rubbles and repaired many buildings that have been submerged.
Watanoha town in Ishinomaki City is the area where the damages were the worst. The students at the broken Watanoha elementary school moved to a different school after the disaster. They came back to the Watanoha elementary school when people finished repairing it in 2014. The police officer at the police station near the school is glad they came back to the town. “The voices of the kids changed this town a lot, they made it cheerful.”
The Myo Shrine in Watanoha displays many gods statues on the steps of the base of pillars where originally there were stone lanterns before the tsunami came. According to the priest of Myo Shrine Ryusho Okuni, many people brought the statues to the shrine when they found them in debris. Most of them are Ebisu daikoku or Shichifukujin, who are the local gods in Watanoha area. While some local families moved to different areas or lost their lifes due to the tsunami, those gods who were living in different houses now live in the same shrine together, maybe with the heart of their original owners.
Although there were tons of debris in this shrine just after the tsunami, now none of them are left, only tiny glass pieces are barely seen on the ground. Many volunteers came and cleaned up the shrine. “A person helped a neighbor, who then helped their next neighbor after the disaster.” Okuni says. “In Japan, the significance of this kind of work is not really "volunteerism", it is rather "service" (奉仕 - houshi).” He then added, “Japanese people are originally strong.”
Okuni thinks that recovering slowly in a local way is the best. “Because if we set up some big policy or activity quickly, it could fall down quickly too,” he said. On the other hand, he also feels the locals need a mental change. He says that, if volunteers come from other places, the locals should feel grateful and say “thank you” to the volunteers, even though it was difficult for them four years ago due to the shock of the damages.
Across the road in front of the JR Ishinomaki station, there is a "recovery shopping district" called Ishinomaki Tatemachi Fukko Fureai Shotengai. It has over 15 local stores that were originally broken by the tsunami and have been rebuilt in a prefabricated buildings. The Japanese national government and Ishinomaki city government have supported running the district.
The city government is planning to close the shopping district in December 2015, because of the buildings' durability. “Not everyone can easily stop running their store”, an owner of a dried seafood store, Miki Toda says. She got a five million yen debt when the tsunami destroyed her store, factory and all the seafood products. “It would have been better if the tsunami had washed everything away, but it left the debts.” She eventually paid back her debts recently, but now, the prefabricated store is going to be closed. “Now, I need to, and I will start living by myself.”
In March 2016, the Japanese government is going to complete the five-year recovery plan created in 2011. Then, many city governments are expected to stop their recovery policies since many of those policies will no longer receive funds from the national government. The real recovery starts from now in the Tohoku area.