Early in the week, our group took a drive along part of Japan’s northern coast, some of the hardest hit areas by the tsunami. Much of the area we drove through had been inundated by the massive wave and places that were once filled with houses and shops were now empty patches of overgrown land.construction of new sea walls seems to be going on wherever one looks, and the sound of heavy equipment is inescapable. Many roads and bridges wiped out by either the tsunami or the earthquake that preceded it have not yet finished being rebuilt. Even some train lines have not been replaced, as the government has gone with the option of using buses to fill the gap instead. Multiple structures have also been allowed to remain standing as a testament to the death and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami.
We visited what was an elementary school before the tsunami hit, but is now a dilapidated concrete memorial to victims of the disaster. It was hard to imagine a wave large amount to completely engulf the four story building built on a ridge relatively high above the water. The wave was so large that it swept into the inlet from the ocean, up the ridge on which the school stood, and over the roof, sweeping all who sought shelter there away.
In other towns along the coast, sea walls now stand where houses and businesses once did, as most residents affected by the tsunami and were able to rebuild have moved their homes farther above the water or moved out of the area permanently. Seeing exactly where the water came up to and just how much destruction it caused that is still visible even five years later really helps one to understand how terrifying and devastating it must have been for people more than any boom or television documentary could.
Seeing images and remains of the disaster at first made me think that none who had lived in these areas before would want to move back, due to the great financial cost or the awful memories of the tragedy in addition to a multitude of other reasons. However, I was and still am amazed at the resiliency of the people here. Even now, as the sea walls are still unfinished, residents are building homes and other buildings on higher ground, preparing for the next great tsunami that will inevitably strike the shore again. Shopping centers have also been set up with assistance from the government to help local business owners who lost everything to the disaster to get back on their feet and, in turn, help the local economy at large start anew. The employees and customers in the shops we visited seemed to be in high spirits and hopeful that their communities would thrive again.
In my opinion, the people of these formerly disaster-stricken areas are a shining example of how devastating events like earthquakes and tsunamis should be responded to. Not only have they survived and managed to keep their communities intact, they have decided not to abandon their homeland and are determined to build a better and safer place to live.