REBUILDING AFTER THE MARCH 11, 2011 TSUNAMI IN JAPAN

REBUILDING AFTER GREAT EAST JAPAN EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI OF MARCH 11, 2011

In June 2011, the total cost of rebuilding was estimated to be ¥16.9 trillion (about $200 billion). Many felt that as part of the rebuilding efforts housing should be placed out of harm’s way on high ground, away from the coast and more evacuation centers are needed and they have to be on higher ground. It was also suggested that those affected by the disaster should be given tax breaks and restrictions on land use should be eased.

The Japanese government has decided on a basic policy for reconstruction, under which at least $250 billion yen will be spent over five years starting in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. A ¥12.1 trillion ($150 billion) third extra budget to fund reconstruction work was approved in October 2011.

Some scholars and politicians have proposed relocating central government agencies to Tohoku and other rural areas, which he believes will spur development in those places and help redistribute the nation's population and resources.

In May the government announced plans to allow local authorities in areas hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami to set up special zones offering relaxed regulations and preferential taxation treatment. The plan is part of the government's outline of special legislation, to aid reconstruction in disaster-hit areas. The special zones aim to remove administrative obstacles so as to quickly implement reconstruction projects that reflect the wishes of each area. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun , May 15, 2011]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “There will be two types of zones: Reconstruction zones will be set up in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, while municipalities within the zones that suffered particularly serious damage will be designated as special districts. If a city, town or village is designated as a special district, a joint liaison council of the central and local governments will be established. Through the council, concerned central ministries and agencies will hold consultations with the local government about the latter's requests for special measures.” [Ibid]

Nobel-prize-winning chemist Ryoji Noyori wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Despite the devastation, the Tohoku region remains attractive and holds great potential. For dispersing risk, there are several specific proposals worth consideration, including (1) relocating some central government functions to Tochigi and Fukushima, the two prefectures chosen in 1999 by the government as candidate areas for partial decentralization; (2) adopting the so-called doshu organization, under which existing prefectures would be realigned into much larger administrative zones or states, as proposed by a government advisory council in 2008; (3) making fresh efforts to lure foreign direct investment; (4) revamping, integrating and strengthening the industrial and economic structures in the Tohoku region; and (5) establishing beautiful urban landscapes. Furthermore, Japan should enhance its status as a maritime nation.”

In June 2011, the Kan government created a special post for the handling of reconstruction--- the disaster reconstruction minister. In July, the first appointment to the position, Ryu Matsumoto resigned after serving only nine days following his controversial remarks that angered people affected by earthquake and tsunami. On one occasion Matsumoto visited the governors of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures for discussions on disaster reconstruction and said the government "will help [local governments] that come up with ideas, but will not help those without them." The comment annoyed the Miyagi governor and angered people in the afflicted areas.

Early Stages of Rebuilding After the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011

One of the first goals in the rebuilding effort was doing something about the massive amounts of debris left by the tsunami. The Los Angeles Times reported, “Bulldozers have pushed debris into the side streets to clear the main avenues, leaving piles up to 10 feet high. Between them, in the ruins, elderly women can be seen pushing shopping carts with a few possessions.” Around the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant the government was considering using remote-controlled , unmanned bulldozers, power shovel and dump trucks to clean up debris there.

In deciding how to deal with debris on their property, homeowners in the Miyagi Prefecture town of Wataricho were given a choice of three flags and told to use: 1) a red one if they wanted everything, including the remains of their house, cleared away; 2) a yellow one if they wanted the house untouched but the debris removed; and 3) a green flag if they wanted everything, including their house, untouched. About 3,000 homes in Wataricho were destroyed or damaged.

Construction of prefab housing for evacuees in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture began about a week after the earthquake and tsunami in the schoolyard of a middle school. The first temporary housing lottery was held in Iwate Prefecture in early April with 1,160 applications submitted for 36 units. The small apartments, able to accommodate two or three people each, were built on the grounds of a middle school. Evacuees began moving into provisional housing in Rikuzentakata in mid April.

An effort was made to keep communities intact and relocate entre towns and districts to the same place. Social workers learned from the Kobe Earthquake in 1995 that simply providing new housing is not enough. There, people who lost their homes, became depressed after moving to places where they didn’t know anybody. In the five years after the quake more than 200 elderly people died solitary deaths in temporary housing.

Cleaning Up After the Tsunami

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that large numbers of flies plagued areas devastated by the tsunami, some of them threatening survivors with serious disease. The flies are particularly bad in places with rotten fish and sludge. Municipal and private exterminators kill them, only to see more emerge, and residents constantly in need of bug sprays and swatters are becoming increasingly irritated. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 5, 2011]

In mid-July, extermination companies nationwide were dispatched to an industrial complex in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. The workers, who wear protective suits and masks, used about two tons of bug spray in the morning alone. "This is an abnormal situation," one of the exterminators, Hideaki Yamanaka, 63, from Osaka Prefecture, said. "It's the first time in decades that I've used such a large amount of spray."

In July 2011, four months after the March earthquake and tsunami, more than 60 percent of debris in the three hardest-hit prefectures--Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima--had yet to be removed. The Environment Ministry estimates that debris in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures totals about 22 million tons. About 34 percent of that had been removed to temporary storage sites as of July 5, according to the ministry. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 12, 2011]

Most of the debris near residential areas was removed by August 2011. The goal is to have all the debris removed by the end of March 2012 and disposed of by March 2014. Removal of reactor fuel won’t start until 2021.

Business Booms in Sendai on Quake Recovery

Takeharu Ishibashi and Arata Abe wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “With reconstruction proceeding slowly in the Tohoku region's coastal areas, businesses in the city of Sendai, the economic hub of the area, have seen booming sales since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Sendai department stores and shopping malls have been packed with shoppers, and reconstruction workers from other prefectures are frequenting local restaurants and bars. Economists believe that in addition to a special economic boom prompted by reconstruction work, spending has been boosted by disaster victims' wish to lift themselves out of their depressed feelings after the disaster. [Source: Takeharu Ishibashi and Arata Abe, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 1, 2012]

Before New Year’s day salespeople shouted energetically during a recent visit to Fujisaki Department Store in central Sendai. "We've got fatty fish," one called out. Luxury seafood items such as prawns and crabs were set out in the fresh food area, which was packed with so many people they could barely move around. A 28-year-old company employee in Sendai's Izumi Ward said, "My family members will get together on New Year's Day for the first time since the disaster. "I want to get energy by eating delicious meals."

The department store was unable to operate for about 1-1/2 months after the disaster. But according to a spokesman, "We're seeing the kind of surge that has been very rare in recent years." Fujisaki fully resumed operations in May, and its sales in that month rose 5 percent from the previous year. In June, they were up 20 percent year on year. This was partly because many people bought new furniture and other home items to replace those destroyed or damaged by the March 11 tsunami. But brisk sales continued from September to December. Sales at the nearby Sendai-Mitsukoshi department store rose 13 percent from May to November from the corresponding period in the previous year.

According to Kihachiro Mihara, the 77-year-old president of Mihara Honten, a long-established clock and watch store in Sendai, "Luxury watches priced at 200,000 yen or higher have sold well. "In December, we sold a watch priced at more than 1 million yen. That was very rare even before the disaster," he said. Many local residents say that because their post-disaster lives have now stabilized somewhat, they want to buy new cars to refresh their feelings, or feel a sense of luxury over the New Year holidays. However, one survivor who visited a luxury brand store in Sendai said, "I want to buy what I want now, because I don't know what tomorrow will bring."

The Kokubuncho district in Aoba Ward, Sendai, is seeing its biggest spending boom since the bubble economy in the latter half of the 1980s. The district is the largest entertainment area in the Tohoku region, with about 3,000 bars and restaurants. Before the disaster, Kokubuncho was deserted on week nights, but now people in work clothes frequent the area and new bars and restaurants have been sprouting up.

One in a building along a central street was crowded with male customers recently. "We see groups of people in work clothes every day. I break the ice with first-time customers by saying, 'What was the disaster like for you?'" a 31-year-old female employee said. Although local businesses in Kokubuncho and nearby areas say the overall number of customers has fallen since the summer, when many insurance company officials visited the area, many people involved in reconstruction work now visit the entertainment zone.

Tourists also have visited the district to consume locally brewed sake and give a boost to the disaster-hit areas. The district was most crowded at year-end, due to many people having parties. The streets were packed with so many people enjoying drinks, local residents said you practically had to push people out of your way to walk there.

Slow Pace of Repairing Power and Water Lines in Some Places

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of households and other utility customers without water after the disaster peaked at about 1.8 million in 12 prefectures affected by the earthquake. As of May number was now about 70,000. [Source: Shigehisa Hanamura, Hiroki Kotaka, Kumiko Okamoto and Shinsuke Ishiguro, Yomiuri Shimbun, may 7, 2011]

Tohoku Electric said the number of utility customers without electricity after the disaster peaked at about 2.74 million in the three prefectures. Excluding about 80,000 houses and other structures that were destroyed by the tsunami and about 30,000 houses and other structures that cannot be repaired because they are near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the number without power in May 2011 was at 10,508. The utility said it expects power to be restored to about 4,500 customers, including households, by around May 20, but was unclear when the rest would again have electricity. [Ibid]

“Nearly two months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, many disaster-stricken areas have made little progress in repairing water, electricity and other vital lifelines, causing stress and physical hardship to survivors, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. “In Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, about 73,000 utility customers, including households, have no tap water, and electricity has not been restored to about 120,000 such customers. These figures include structures that were destroyed or washed away by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake. Disaster survivors still without water and power have pressed officials to repair the vital services as quickly as possible.” [Ibid]

“Before the disaster, some areas relied on wells for their water. The tsunami flooded some of these wells with seawater or blocked them with debris. Desalinization and debris removal are huge tasks, and in these areas, the completion of repairs cannot even be forecast. Tap water supplies for Minami-Sanrikucho were cut off when the tsunami damaged four of the town's waterworks. The plants supply tap water pumped up from wells. However, well water at two of the plants is undrinkable as it now contains too much salt, according to local officials. In Rikuzen-Takata, three tap water sources were submerged by the ocean. As of April 1, the salt density in the water at one of the largest wells in the city was three times more than the central government's standard. Although the saline density has decreased recently, salt contained in the soil may filter into subterranean water used for tap water.” [Ibid]

“Kikuo Watanabe, 75, from Minami-Sanriku in Miyagi Prefecture, said his house has no tap water or electricity. He bathes at a shelter that is a 20-minute walk away and uses the toilet of a nearby house that has its own well and septic tank. He said he usually goes to bed before dark. "Maybe it's because of the dark, but my family bickers more than before," he said. In Ishinomaki in the same prefecture, 12,000 utility customers, including households, were still without water, and power has not been restored to about 18,000. These figures also include structures destroyed by the tsunami.” [Ibid]

“In Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, about 90 percent of the city was still without water. A shelter in the municipal Hirota Primary School depended on water trucks and the amount of laundry shelter residents can do has been rationed. One 73-year-old woman who lives in the shelter said she walked 15 minutes to a nearby river once a week to wash clothes.” "Physically, it's hard work, and it's tired me out," she said. Hisao Ito, 63, a resident of the city's Futsukaichi district, said he goes to bed at 7:30 p.m. because of the lack of power and water. "I wonder how long I'll have to live like I'm on a deserted island." [Ibid]

“Piles of debris have to be removed to allow waterworks engineers to reach and repair water pipes. The Ishinomaki District Water Supply Authority said even after repairs are carried out on water pipes, they must be checked out thoroughly. All valves and faucets should be closed to check whether the pipes have been properly repaired; otherwise water would be wasted if it was allowed to run nonstop, it said. Debris is also hampering the recovery of power supplies. A total of 1,183 utility customers, including households, in Miyagi Prefecture have no prospect of being reconnected to power supplies until after May 20 if debris is not removed properly, according to the Tohoku Electric Power Co.” [Ibid]

The long-term disruption of water and power supplies could affect the health of local residents."Inhaling dust from mud-caked things in the wake of the tsunami could cause respiratory diseases. Food poisoning also is likely if they [local people] are unable to wash their hands thoroughly during the [coming] rainy season," said Prof. Taeko Hori, a specialist in children's nursing care at Kyoto Tachibana University. [Ibid]

The earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed base stations and cut lines, Stations also stopped functioning because of a lack of power. Mobile phone service was not completely restored in the earthquake-area. After service was restored an effort was made to strengthen the existing system and provide better back up and more powerful batteries and add more base stations in the event another serious disaster occurs.

Trains Need Several Years to Rebuild

In September 2011, the Tohoku shinkansen returned to normal for the first time since the March earthquake and tsunami. Service between Tokyo and Aomori resumed in April but in some sections the trains were forced to go slower than normal because or repair work and damaged power cables. Railway lines operated by East Japan Railway Co. and semipublic companies remain crippled months after the disaster.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Plans for rebuilding the railways are in limbo because if the reconstruction of disaster-hit residential areas sees them relocated to higher ground, the railway routes might also have to change. Railway companies have yet to develop a clear plan for the restoration of tracks and stations along the coast of the Tohoku region that were swept away by the tsunami that followed the massive quake in March.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 1, 2011]

“The lines affected run along the Pacific coast between Aomori and Fukushima prefectures. The JR East properties in the region that are currently not operating are: the Senseki Line between Higashi-Shiogama and Ishinomaki stations; the Ishinomaki Line between Maeyachi and Onagawa stations; Yanaizu and Kesennuma stations on the Kesennuma Line; Watari and Yotsukura stations on the Joban Line; Kesennuma and Sakari stations on the Ofunato Line; Kamaishi and Miyako stations on the Yamada Line; and Kuji and Hashikami stations on the Hachinohe Line. JR East is running buses in place of the disabled train services. The Senseki Line is an important means of transportation for businesspeople and students who commute to Sendai and areas nearby.” [Ibid]

“Masayuki Satomi, president of JR East's Sendai branch, said it will take several years to fully restore all train services in the region. Some devastated towns might implement major urban planning changes as part of their reconstruction plans, including the relocation of residential areas and roads to higher, inland locations that are less vulnerable to natural disasters. In such cases, it would clearly be inconvenient if railways were to remain along the coast.” [Ibid]

“Securing necessary funds for the reconstruction is another problem. Sanriku Railway Co., a third-sector, or semipublic, railway company funded by Iwate Prefecture and other entities, suffered significant damage to its facilities on March 11. Shimanokoshi Station on the Kita Rias Line between Miyako and Kuji stations was destroyed, and many bridges and other sections on the Minami Rias Line between Sakari and Kamaishi stations were damaged.” [Ibid]

“The company, which has managed to resume services on parts of the Kita Rias Line, hopes to resume full operations in the region within three years, but is struggling to find the necessary funds. The company tentatively estimated its reconstruction costs at 18 billion yen. Under the current subsidy system for the reconstruction of railway infrastructure, the railway operator is supposed to cover 50 percent of the cost, with the central government and the local government concerned covering 25 percent each.” "Because of a shortage of funds, we can't continue work to repair the lines," the company said. [Ibid]

JR East is also having money problems. It had its biggest quarterly losses--- ¥61.4 billion---in the January-March quarter in 2011 due in part to the shot down of train services and shopping centers and increased repair cost after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Port and Embankment Repairs to Be Finished by 2015

In November 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Major fishing ports damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake will be completely repaired by the end of fiscal 2015 at the latest revised road maps compiled by the government's reconstruction headquarters said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 30, 2011]

According to the revised road map, Hachinohe fishing port in Aomori Prefecture will be restored by the end of 2012, while Choshi fishing port in Chiba Prefecture will be rebuilt by the end of fiscal 2012. Six other major fishing ports--two in Iwate Prefecture (Kamaishi and Ofunato) and four in Miyagi Prefecture (Kesennuma, Onagawa, Ishinomaki and Shiogama)--will be restored by the end of fiscal 2015.

Aside from these eight major fishing ports, more than 20 other fishing ports, including Yamada port in Iwate Prefecture, Shizukawa Port in Miyagi Prefecture and Tsurushihama Port in Fukushima Prefecture, will see restoration work completed by the end of fiscal 2015 at the latest. Seaside embankment restoration plans at 416 locations in the six prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Aomori, Ibaraki and Chiba will be prepared by the end of fiscal 2011. Of the 416, restoration work at 131 locations will begin within fiscal 2011. The complete reconstruction of damaged embankments is expected to be completed within five years.

Of 16 sewage treatment facilities on the Pacific coast, normal operations will resume at four facilities by the end of fiscal 2011 and at eight others within fiscal 2012. The government's reconstruction headquarters had added road maps on restoration for 43 municipalities in six quake-hit prefectures, including detailed time lines for restoration of embankments, farmland and school facilities. For example, in Ishinomaki, repair at 51 primary, middle and high schools and kindergartens with minor damage will be completed by the end of fiscal 2012.

Long Term Rebuilding

In June 2011, Kyodo reported, “Prime Minister Naoto Kan received a set of proposals on how to rebuild areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami from his key advisory panel, which calls for efforts to minimize damage in a country destined to coexist with natural disasters. The proposals, relying on the assumption that a similar catastrophic disaster could occur at any time, will serve as a master plan for Japan's formidable reconstruction work in the years ahead.” [Source: Kyodo, Mainichi Shimbun, June 26, 2011]

For the expected huge costs, the Reconstruction Design Council says the government must consider raising core taxes for a limited time, in addition to cutting wasteful government spending. Considering the geographic and geological characteristics of the Japanese archipelago, the council says that natural disasters are unavoidable and calls on the government, as well as local authorities, to focus more on measures aimed at "minimizing damage."

Instead of spending massively on public works and just trying "to head off natural disasters," such as building tsunami breakwaters across the seacoast, central parts of towns and cities in the region must be moved inland or to higher ground and recreated on the principle of making it easier for people to escape. The council also recommends the establishment of permanent anti-tsunami measures that can be applied to the rest of the country, with the aim of creating necessary new laws in the future.

To revitalize the region, which faces the challenge of an aging and declining population, one option may be to launch special economic zones to allow deregulation and tax breaks, it says. The panel advocates making the region a global front-runner in agriculture and fisheries and the development of cutting-edge technologies. It also says that Tohoku has great potential to turn into a leading user of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass energy.

On how to finance the reconstruction work, the council says the government could issue special bonds for a certain period of time and redeem them by increasing core taxes. Core taxes include consumption, income and corporate taxes. But the council did not specify which taxes should be raised. Members of the council included architect Tadao Ando, Sony Corp. Vice Chairman Ryoji Chubachi and Takashi Mikuriya, a University of Tokyo political professor. Philosopher Takeshi Umehara served as special adviser.

Some the long-term rebuilding plans are quite ambitious. On flat coastal plains there are plans to make huge embankments using debris and dirt and cover them with forest plantations, having farmland behind them, and commercial and residential areas relocated further inland. Roads would be raised to make them less vulnerable to being swamped by tsunamis and so they offer some offer some protection from tsunamis to buildings behind them. In mountainous coastal areas there are plans to make concrete embankments to protect fishing facilities and relocate commercial and residential to flat areas carved out of the coastal mountains. Preliminary reports have said nothing about where the money to build all this would come from.

Relocating Towns and Establishing a New National Park

Some planners in Tokyo have called for relocating vulnerable towns up onto the sheared-off tops of nearby mountains. But others say Japan can no longer afford to throw money at such projects, which would cost $3 billion just for a single town. Some towns wanted to get the long-term rebuilding process going as soon as possible took matters int their own hands and drew up their plans, with railroads and other facilities built inland out of harms way and forest planted near the sea to offer some protection from a future tsunami. But local people complained that such plans took years to complete and what were they supposed to do in the meantime.

Martin Fackler wrote in New York Times, “In some of the tsunami-stricken areas, particularly the more prosperous regions closer to the city of Sendai, the removal of millions of tons of debris is progressing rapidly. Large improvised disposal facilities are grinding up broken concrete and wood into landfill material for reconstruction. But in the poorer fishing regions farther north along the mountainous coastline, many towns have barely finished the first basic tasks of survival.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, September 12, 2011]

There is a plan to unite the six national, quasi-national and prefectural natural parks in the disaster-hit Tohoku region into a single national park that will stretch along the Sanriku coast from Aomori Prefecture through Iwate Prefecture to Miyagi Prefecture, embracing trails totaling 350 kilometers in length, according to government sources. The Environment Ministry will rebuild or repair the six natural parks and combine them to form the new national park, tentatively named Sanriku reconstruction national park.

In Miyako breakwaters and aquafarms were built with debris.

Higashi-Matsushima Relocates to Higher Ground

In March 2011, the central government decided on the first allocation of restoration subsidies for projects such as the collective relocation of residents to protect them from future disasters. While suffering from decreasing and aging populations, many municipalities have made "compact" a keyword as they develop new towns. This will involve creating regions able to stand on their own feet by concentrating houses and administrative functions in areas that also coexist with agricultural, mountainous and fishing villages in the vicinity. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 11, 2011]

The March 11 tsunami killed more than 10 percent of the 4,700 residents in the Nobiru district of Higashi-Matsushima. Many residents affected by the disaster still live in temporary housing units outside the district. Its population was only 1,834 as of the end of February. The Higashi-Matsushima municipal government has obtained 201 hectares of higher ground behind the former Nobiru district. The city plans to start developing the site for residential housing in fiscal 2013 and expects about 1,000 households to relocate there.

The only two doctors who lived in the Nobiru district of of Higashi-Matsushima died, so the area currently has no doctor. "If nothing is done to fix this problem, no residents will come back [to Nobiru]," said Toshiro Saito, 72, a member of the district's council on town development.

Green Smart Cities' and Solar Plants in Devastated Areas

Plans to rebuild many areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake as environmentally friendly "smart cities" are being explored by corporations and municipal governments.By promoting large-scale projects that include power-generation facilities utilizing renewable energy and smart grids, the plans are also meant to create jobs. Some companies and local governments have already started working together on these projects. [Source: Yu Toda, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 13, 2011]

Major electronics manufacturer Toshiba Corp. has proposed an integrated system, with facilities ranging from power generation and water-treatment systems to "smart meter" next-generation power meters, to some local governments. An official of the company's smart community division said, "In the future, [we want] to export technologies created domestically."

Hitachi, Ltd. is considering ways to transport electricity generated at its factory in Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, to evacuation centers by buses equipped with storage batteries in the event of a disaster. Plans to construct mega solar power plants are also under way. Mitsui & Co., Ltd. is considering building a mega solar power plant on quake-hit vacant land, and SoftBank Corp. has established an organization to promote cooperation with local governments across the country.

Local governments in quake-hit areas are eager to restore their infrastructure by introducing smart city and mega solar power projects. Rikuzen-Takata in Iwate Prefecture is considering a mega solar and large-scale power storage system in collaboration with Ofunato and Sumitacho in the prefecture. The plan aims to build a smart city and create jobs, according to an official at the Rikuzen-Takata municipal government.Sendai is also considering a plan to build a solar power plant on devastated farmland in the city and run food processing facilities with electricity from the plant.

However, the plans being considered by companies and local governments are based on the precondition that the use of farmland will be deregulated and tax breaks will be available. The central government's support and encouragement of companies and local governments are indispensable for the restoration of devastated areas.

In July 2011, the trading company giant Mitsui & Co. said it plans to build huge solar power plants in the Tohoku region to help the region recover from the March 11 disaster by easing its power shortages. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Mitsui plans to build several large solar plants with a combined generation capacity of about 100,000 kilowatts, enough to supply electricity to about 30,000 households, company sources said. The project will also provide work to people who lost their jobs due to the earthquake and tsunami. Toyota and the Miyagi prefecture government have plans for a “smart grid” solar project at a Toyota industrial park. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 2011]

Reconstruction One Year After the Disaster

In March 2012, AP reported: While much of the debris has been gathered into massive piles, very little rebuilding has begun. Beyond the massive cleanup, many towns are still finalising reconstruction plans, some of which involve moving residential areas to higher ground. Bureaucratic delays in coordination between the central government, prefectural (state) authorities and local officials have also slowed rebuilding efforts. [Source: AP, March 12, 2012]

"Differences of opinion between central and local governments and even among the populations affected" has contributed to delays, Tadateru Konoe, president of the Japan Red Cross Society, said earlier this week. "They couldn't reach any consensus. They still keep fighting with each other, looking for the best solution." Also, "it's not simply building back as it used to be. It's to build back better, and that requires a lot of consultations," he added.

Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post: In some ways, Japan’s progress of the past year is obvious, though cosmetic. Towns that were shredded by the tsunami wave, their houses torn to metal and wood, have been cleared of debris and mud. Workers have repaired earthquake-caused chasms in the roads. The bullet train again runs to Sendai, the main city in the tsunami-devastated region. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post , March 11 2012]

Some of the more heartening images of reconstruction are displayed at the entrance of the prime minister’s office in central Tokyo. Several months ago, the government urged people to send photographs of “daily happenings” in the disaster zone, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, in a recent blog entry, mentioned several of the most memorable ones. An infant receiving a massage at a temporary housing facility. Children gorging on Christmas cake.

“Of course, it may be that these have picked out only the brighter side of the disaster areas, and it is not my intention to claim that “reconstruction is proceeding smoothly” based on these alone,” Noda wrote. “At the same time, I would be grateful if, by glimpsing new scenes of people who have set out along the path to reconstruction, even a few more people came to share the wish to continue to be a support in this process.”

Rebuilding Process: A Year After the Tsunami

Christopher Hawthorne wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Huge, neatly sorted piles of debris dot the Tohoku region, symbols of a recovery that has stalled at the cleanup stage. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, his approval rating in danger of sinking below 30 percent, has faced wide criticism for failing to articulate a broad vision for rebuilding. The national Reconstruction Agency wasn't officially launched until February, 11 months after the disaster. [Source: Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic, March 8, 2012]

The most intractable issue is whether the hardest hit fishing villages, already losing population before the disaster, should be rebuilt as they were or consolidated. In a broader sense, the nation has struggled with basic issues at the core of reconstruction, particularly the way the tsunami has exposed gaps between rich and poor, young and old, rural and urban, and between the nation's technological haves and have-nots.

"The tsunami attacked our poorer communities and [has] shown us how much they were already struggling," said Masashige Motoe, a professor in the department of architecture and building science at Tohoku University in Sendai. "No one wants to see that. No one wants to face it."

"We gave the local residents a questionnaire," she said, "and 70 percent of them want to remain." But at 70 percent of its pre-tsunami population the village would struggle to survive economically. There is disagreement even among those wishing to stay about the course of rebuilding, she added, as a number of fishermen came over to greet her. After speaking with them in Japanese, she gave a loose translation of their comments: "Many of the fishermen are living in temporary housing, and they say they like it just fine. They want us to concentrate on rebuilding the facilities for fishing and forget about new housing." The local government has set a deadline at the end of March for the villagers to settle on the location for a new residential neighborhood.

Sendai, Post-Tsunami Boomtown

Christopher Hawthorne wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Sendai, a coastal city of 1 million people, has become an unlikely post-disaster boom town. Though its coast was heavily damaged by the tsunami, the majority of the city stayed dry, and significantly, its political structure remained intact. Along wide and tree-shaded Jozenji Avenue, the area around the Sendai Mediatheque---a 2001 building designed by Ito and famous among architects around the world---is bustling. A video widely circulated on the Internet, shot from underneath a table inside the Mediatheque as the earthquake raged, showed the building shaking violently. But the minor damage it suffered was repaired months ago. [Source: Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic, March 8, 2012]

Sendai's relative good fortune has boosted its population, which had been slowly ebbing before the disaster, and given it a leg up in recovery planning. After intense negotiations with residents of its coastal neighborhood, an area along Arahama Beach that was wiped off the map by the surge, the city has decided to prohibit all construction in a half-mile-wide strip along the ocean.

It plans to turn that land into a park while fortifying its sea wall and relocating 8,500 residents to higher ground. The city is still in talks with homeowners about buying their land so they can find new property inland. "This is a very delicate process and we want to have as much consensus of the citizens as possible," said Jun Umenai, director of Sendai's office of recovery projects.

Architects Helping to Rebuild After the Tsunami

Christopher Hawthorne wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Athough Toyo Ito, Kazuyo Sejima and other leading Japanese architects have joined emerging talents like Kumiko Inui in sketching out thoughtful plans for new housing and civic architecture, their efforts have so far garnered little support from politicians in Tokyo. [Source: Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic, March 8, 2012]

Architect Shoko Fukuya, a recent transplant from Tokyo, is helping lead the recovery planning on the Oshika Peninsula. On a blustery afternoon she stopped her car near Kobuchihama's fisherman's union building, where a group of roughly 50 local men, still unable to get the businesses they rely on up and running, were awaiting instructions from regional officials who had hired them to help with cleanup operations. She took a preliminary map of the recovery plan for the village and spread it atop the hood of the car, indicating where new housing was planned.

Hitoshi Abe, chairman of the architecture department at UCLA and a native of Sendai, has made seven trips to the region since last March. He played a hand in coordinating the design competitions in Shichigahama and elsewhere, under the rubric of a Sendai-based group called Archi-Aid. He also helped plan an exhibition to mark the anniversary of the disaster; it runs through April 15 at UCLA's Fowler Museum.

"One of the major problems in this particular disaster is that the affected area is just so huge and diverse," he said. "So if you're only looking at the recovery plan in Sendai, it looks pretty good. But if you look at the whole of eastern Japan there are all sorts of remaining issues and obstacles." Added Abe, "Right now it's atomized. It's hard to see any larger vision."

Still, he was optimistic about the progress being made in Shichigahama, where construction on Inui's middle school will begin early next year, with a planned opening date of fall 2014. Another design competition in the town produced a design for a new elementary school. And before either school design was chosen, the town had moved ahead with an impressive plan to remake its extensive beachfront, which is famous around the region. The name Shichigahama means "Seven Beaches."

So what makes this town different? It helped that the school sites, among the highest points in hilly Shichigahama, had little flood damage and are ready to rebuild. Even more important was the fact that the local government saw ambitious new architecture as a way to promote a sense of unity and rebirth and as a result chose not to leave the rebuilding to civil engineers alone. According to Yasuaki Onoda, an architect and professor at Tohoku University who is advising the town, Shichigahama officials "realized that a school is not just a school anymore. It also has to operate as a community evacuation center---and as a symbol of reconstruction."

Some Tsunami-Struck Areas to Raise Ground Level to Aid Rebuilding

In November, 2012 Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Twelve municipalities hit hard by the tsunami after the Great East Japan Earthquake plan to elevate the ground level in once-submerged urban areas--one by up to 17 meters--to aid in the rebuilding of towns and cities in their prior locations. The targeted areas together measure 740 hectares, nearly 15 times larger than Tokyo Disneyland, and the quantity of dirt required is calculated to be 17.5 million cubic meters--enough to fill the Tokyo Dome 14 times. Some municipalities are concerned about the delay in beginning work due to a shortage of dirt and other logistical factors. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 13, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun surveyed 37 municipalities in coastal areas in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. Twelve of them, including Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, and Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, plan to conduct land readjustment to rebuild their urban areas in 26 districts. While most of them plan to raise the ground level by one to six meters, the municipal government of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, aims to raise it by up to 17 meters, which would make the area 18 meters above sea level. The mound will be as high as a five-story condominium. [Ibid]

The municipalities' plan is to secure the necessary dirt by cutting away part of nearby hills or using dirt generated by projects to transfer groups of residents to higher ground. But districts in at least five municipalities are likely to have difficulty securing enough dirt because there are no such hills nearby, or because a large quantity of dirt is needed for other projects including dike construction. Though some are considering procuring dirt from the Tokyo metropolitan area, the transport cost could be immense. [Ibid]

Artificial Anti-Tsunami Hill Completed in Japan

In June 2013, the Japan News/Asia News Network reported: “The first artificial hill built to mitigate tsunami damage was recently completed in a coastal area in Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture. The base of the hill is made of debris left by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The 8-meter-high Sennen Kibo no Oka is a truncated cone-shaped hill 76 meters wide at its base and 60 meters from front to back. To create the hill, sedimentary soil brought by the tsunami and ordinary soil was placed on a foundation comprising such debris as concrete rubble. [Source: Japan News/Asia News Network, June 16, 2013 >><<]

The hill will usually be used as a memorial park where disaster-prevention education will be given. It is also meant to blunt the force of tsunami and serve as an evacuation centre. Its construction cost about 60 million yen (S$796,080), which was covered by donations from around the country.The Iwanuma municipal government plans to create 15 such hills along its about 10 kilometer-long coastline. The city government plans to use subsidies for restoration from the central government to help pay for the remaining hills. >><<

Tohoku’s Great Forest Wall Project

The Great Forest Wall Project entails the planting of nearly 300 kilometers of trees along the northeast coast from Iwate to Miyagi to Fukushima with the goal of establishing a strong barrier, in 20 years time, to protect people and their way of life. The Japan Times reported: “Thousands of saplings have already been planted over the past two years, but the tree seawall will require many more if it is going to regenerate the Tohoku forests strongly enough to withstand another tsunami. It is estimated that 90 million trees will be needed in total to provide adequate coverage over the 300 kilometers distance. It is expected that the tree seawall will cut the power of tsunamis by 50 percent and reduce undertow dangers. [Source: Japan Times, November 23, 2013 /^/]

“The area will need more than just trees, too. Environmentalists are calling for a more thorough evaluation of what will best protect residents and maintain the ecosystems that provide a livelihood to the region. In addition to trees, the coast needs tidal flats, sea-grass meadows and natural “open” spaces. The central government and construction interests, however, have aimed at building concrete seawalls. Such barriers may be appropriate in many areas, but the Great Forest Wall Project is a reminder that the best protection may be nature itself. Building high, continuous walls of concrete along the shore may seem a natural response to a disaster, but taking into account ecological necessities is a more sensible plan./^/

“Concrete walls and barriers that block the natural intertidal zones will cause havoc with the complex ecosystems in the area. Discussion should take place over what kind of construction each community wants and needs. Building a wall of concrete that destroys the livelihood of fishing communities is hardly a reasonable solution. Trees and tidal flats are a better protection in many areas than concrete barriers. /^/

“Building of protective concrete walls should take into account the safety of the citizens in the area, but also the needs of the coastal environment. The danger is that eco-zones, bays, spring-fed water supplies and rivers will become cut off from one another. The coastline needs trees, certainly, but also needs other natural areas preserved for the numerous animal species essential for the area to return to a more natural balance. /^/

“The tree seawall, of course, is more than a pragmatic, sensible return to nature. It is also a way of recovering spiritually. For many of those planting indigenous varieties of trees in what have become semi-regular ceremonies in the region, the symbolism of life starting anew from small saplings is also vital to recovery. That return to a view of nature as nurturing and supportive, as well as protective, will surely prove a better model for future safety than past approaches. /^/

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2014

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