• TOP
  • Japan knows how to rebuilt, 12 years after the earthquake and tsunami

Japan knows how to rebuilt, 12 years after the earthquake and tsunami

The advances, the pending and the memories
By Édgar Arturo SILVA LOÁIGA
May 16, 2023
How much destruction and chaos can happen in a single day? How much pain can occur in a single day? Japan can illustrate and explain it with March 11, 2011. That day, that day alone, almost 20,000 people died, another 2,500 who are still on the list of disappeared and would have to be added, more than 6,500 people were injured, almost half million evacuees from the most affected areas, more than a million houses damaged and of those, 120 thousand totally destroyed and 570 km of roads destroyed. That Friday in March, first a 9.1 magnitude earthquake at 2:46 in the afternoon; About 30 minutes later, a tsunami with waves of more than 30 meters, numerous and extensive fires and the explosion at a nuclear power plant devastated large areas of the eastern coast of the country of the rising sun.

The reconstruction and recovery works have been financed with a solidarity tax for the Japanese
But throughout history, Japan has learned to be reborn and learn lessons from every devastating experience it endures. After 1945, at the end of World War II, it had to be almost completely rebuilt and reinvented. So, you already know about these reconstructive processes and you know that, after blows as big as that, they must evaluate, plan, budget and execute efficiently. In this 2023, on the 12th anniversary of that painful blow of nature, you can already see and evaluate that reconstruction process that, they say so well, "is not over yet."

The Tohoku region, and its prefectures (provinces) of Miyagi and Fukushima were the areas most affected by this 9-degree earthquake, the strongest in history in one of the most seismic countries in the world. That is where the greatest damage was concentrated after the earthquake, the tsunami and the threat from the Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima.

From this region, the Japanese authorities evacuated 470,000 people immediately after the disaster. By April 2022, more than 400,000 are back in their new or rebuilt homes. Of the 40,000 who have yet to return, 30,000 lived in the vicinity of Fukushima and its nuclear plant. Their return has been the slowest and most difficult because work is still being done at the plant to dismantle the reactors and clean up the land in the immediate perimeter. The older adults who lived there are the ones who say they want to return, the younger ones don't want it so much.
Mr. Shinji Tokumasu exposing the effects and work carried out after the accident at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan


Because of Japan's history and experience, the government has a Reconstruction Agency that coordinates the recovery work. The Deputy General Director of Nuclear Accident Reconstruction, Shinji Tokumasu, told me that where more pending tasks remain is attention to and solutions to the effects of damage to the nuclear plant. The dismantling of the damaged reactor and the cleaning and decontamination of the land near the plant, is what has prevented the return of the inhabitants despite the fact that the radioactivity indices are already within the accepted and normal ranges.

Following the damage to the nuclear plant, the Japanese government evacuated 1,150 km2 (equivalent to 12% of the territory of Fukushima Prefecture). In March 2020, that perimeter dropped to 337 km2, that is, 2.4% of the territory. The conditions are still not ideal because the reactor has not yet been able to be dismantled, there is no technology developed for that and they say it could take up to 30 more years to do so. They still do not know how it is inside in precision, the radiation is still high there and for this reason, they use robots to remove debris, reach the center of the reactor and see how they dismantle it without causing other damage.

The soil with radioactive residues makes it necessary to lift the first layer of earth and deposit it in a safe place, or process it in a decontamination plant built in the town of Okuma. More than 13 million cubic meters have already been removed and transported to that plant.

However, much of the region has already resumed its economic activities. Agriculture and fishing gradually increase their production, national and international markets buy products (peaches, sake and shellfish) from there again, without reaching the numbers prior to March 2011. Of the 55 countries that restricted imports after the plant accident, 43 have already been lifted, 12 remain with the restrictions, but 5 of them (China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and South Korea) only limit it from certain areas and 7 request test certificates including the European Union.

Japan is currently assessing its reliance on nuclear power to produce electricity. Before 2011, power came from more than 50 installed nuclear reactors. In 2022, there were 36 plants left, but only 7 of them are operating to produce electricity. The objective of reducing and eliminating its dependence on nuclear energy was halted after the start of the war in Ukraine, seeing that the supply of fuels such as coal and natural gas could be affected by global geopolitical situations.


From the effects of the 9 degree earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that flooded areas up to 20 meters, the reconstruction and reactivation has been more expeditious and effective.

The Japanese government established from 2013 to 2037, an additional amount of 2.1% in income tax as a joint tax for all Japanese citizens, businesses and companies. With this, have been financed the reconstruction and rehabilitation works of the affected areas. For example, of the 570 km of roads destroyed by the disaster, as of July 2021, 95% (541 km) were already rebuilt and even improved. Just to illustrate that. Before 2011, the journey between the city of Kesennuma and Sendai took two and a half hours. Now, with the redesign and construction, the same journey can be done in just an hour and a half.

The largest percentage of the budget obtained by the solidarity tax was allocated to the fitting out of infrastructure, financing for the construction of residential houses and credits for small businesses. The infrastructure not only includes roads but also dikes in the coastal zone that prevent or reduce damage from future tsunamis.

Reconstruction of Sendai port (left) and Shin Kitakami Ohashi bridge in Ishinomaki.

The premise was to reconstruct and enable all the roads and means as soon as possible so that the economy of that region resumed its productive activities. Agriculture, fishing and tourism have paved the way and are already picking up speed.


Kadonowaki School where teachers saved 224 students before the tsunami hit
The Japanese don't like to forget. That fateful March 11, 2011 is almost 12 years ago, and they still preserve practically intact, just as they were, some buildings that illustrate, explain and remember what was lived as a tribute to all the lives that were lost. In the city of Ishinomaki, the Kadonowaki School and the Okawa School. And in the city of Kesennuma, the Koyo Technical College. The three now converted into museums of remembrance.

Kadonowaki and Okawa schools tell two different stories. Kadonowaki, located in front of the coast, managed to save the 224 students present that afternoon. As they had practiced in the drills, as soon as the earthquake had passed, the students and teachers climbed the Hiyori mountain located behind the school. When the wave came in almost an hour later, they were all high enough to be safe. The 7 students who died, was because that day they did not go or they had already gone to their homes and were swept away by the water.

Meanwhile, at the Okawa School, 74 children and 10 teachers died. Here, the attendants kept the students in the school gardens after the earthquake for more than 30 minutes. For inexplicable reasons, they were not taken up a mountain behind the school grounds and when the wave came, it washed them all away.

The Koyo Technical College managed to save 170 lives because its structure withstood the blow of the tsunami wave, and the students and teachers went up to the fourth floor and the roof where they took refuge while everything happened. Today, the building and its surroundings remain standing, erect so that those who walk through its corridors can understand the moment of horror that the people who lived through that fearsome experience lived through.

In Koyo, one of the most unusual tsunami stories occurred. A house was stuck between the structure of the school building. When they managed to lower the waters, people saw that inside the house there were two women who managed to survive and were in good condition. The house had traveled almost 5 kilometers afloat, remained solid and managed to save its two inhabitants. The Koyo building had managed to save two more people, in addition to a good part of its students and teachers.

The reconstruction task is not over, but less to go. Japan knows that these efforts are of time and of all. They are a collectivist society, they have been formed and are organized to think about the collective well-being and work together in times of national trials. Although throughout the world the sun rises every 24 hours, it seems that in Japan, due to its order and work, there is always more clarity to see ahead and work for a better future.
Post your comments