Eight and a half years after the tsunami

By Stefan Schauwecker
January 06, 2020

The newly opened Iwate Tsunami Memorial in Rikuzentakata

This is the 17th 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. Eight and a half years after the tsunami, we revisited some of the worst-hit cities along the Sanriku Coast in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures on September 25-26, 2019.

We traveled by rental car from Miyako to Sendai. The highlights of the trip were watching a Rugby World Cup game in Kamaishi and visiting the newly opened tsunami memorial museum in Rikuzentakata.

In Miyako, we explored some places of interest along the coast north of Jodogahama. We followed the Michinoku Coastal Trail for a few kilometers and visited the Tsunami Memorial Park Nakanohama which was built on a destroyed campground.

Badly hit Kuwagasaki district in Miyako City

Compare: Sep 2019 - Apr 2019 - Apr 2018 - Oct 2017 - Oct 2016 - May 2016 - Nov 2015 - Apr 2014 - Oct 2013 - Apr 2011

The Kuwagasaki district is recovering

Flags are welcoming the Fiji rugby team to Miyako

View from the Jodogahama Ohashi Bridge

North of Jodogahama, the Michinoku Coastal Trail leads up and down through thick forest

An observation point along the Michinoku Coastal Trail

The coast around the Shiofukiana blowing hole further north

Due to a lack of large waves, the blowing hole released only a little bit of mist from time to time

The Tsunami Memorial Park Nakanohama, a further three kilometers north of the Shiofukiana

Built on the site of a destroyed campground, the memorial indicates the heights of the 1933 and 1896 tsunami with red spheres and the height of the 2011 tsunami above them

We then proceeded to Kamaishi to watch the Rugby World Cup match between Fiji and Uruguay in the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium in the city's Unosumai district. It was a great privilege to be able to spend this special day in Unosumai and to see one train and bus after the other bring thousands of visitors from across the world into the district which eight and a half years ago had suffered almost complete destruction by the tsunami.

People flocking to the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium

A rare extra train by JR is running along the Sanriku Railway to bring spectators to Unosumai Station

A memorial outside of Unosumai Station lists the name of local victims

Perfect conditions at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium

Before the start of the match, the local school children sang a song of gratitude

... for the support received

Uruguay defeated Fiji in a captivating game 30-27

The Sanriku Railway saw high ridership levels today

On the second day we visited Rikuzentakata where the Iwate Tsunami Memorial had newly opened a few days earlier. The very well done museum was another highlight of our trip. It is the central piece of the city's memorial park which also includes the famous Miracle Pine. Some parts of the park are still being worked on, and the full opening is scheduled for spring 2021.

Residents and businesses are gradually returning to central Rikuzentakata

Compare: Sep 2019 - Oct 2018

Much residential space is still available in Rikuzentakata's new city center

A new road under construction

The Iwate Tsunami Memorial building behind rice fields that once again cover the lower elevations of Rikuzentakata

Iwate Tsunami Memorial

Inside the museum

Lots of interesting information

Replica of a disaster management office

The park behind the building connects to the seawall which protects the city

View from the 12 meter tall seawall

Also in the park stands the Miracle Pine

Real bird on the Miracle Pine

The museum is also a Michi-no-eki roadside station with a souvenir shop

In Kesennuma, work on the reconstruction of the city center around the port has been proceeding, and some attractive, new waterfront buildings have recently been completed. More buildings are still under construction, and I hope that they will bring back more people to this attractive part of the city.

A new, pleasant building complex opened along the waterfront in central Kesennuma

Named Pier 7, the complex is located just across the road from K-Port, a cafe by actor Watanabe Ken

More new buildings will be opening soon, further reviving the tsunami-hit district

Recovering Shishiori district of Kesennuma City

Compare: Sep 2019 - Apr 2011

Minamisanriku further south along the coast is also working on a memorial park which will be centered around the town's famous former Crisis Management Center. The park is scheduled to open partially in December 2019 and fully in autumn 2020.

Minamisanriku's former town center

Compare: Sep 2019 - apr 2019 - Oct 2018 - Apr 2018 - Oct 2017 - Apr 2017

The future site of Minamisanriku's memorial park around the former Crisis Management Center

Compare: Sep 2019 - apr 2019 - Oct 2018 - Apr 2018

Minamisanriku's former Crisis Management Center

Works on the memorial park are entering the final stage

The memorial park is scheduled to partially open in December 2019

For the first time in two and a half years, we also made a stop in the port town of Onagawa where works on the reconstruction of the former town center are ongoing. In the meantime, the Hama Terrace complex has made an attractive addition to the pleasant Seapal Pier Onagawa mall that leads from the station towards the waterfront.

Central Onagawa

Compare: Sep 2019 - Apr 2017 - Apr 2015

Seapal Pier Onagawa, the pleasant shopping mall in front of Onagawa Station

The new Hama Terrace at the other end of the mall

Open-air sitting space at the Hama Terrace

Fish market at the Hama Terrace

Before heading to Sendai, we made our biannual pilgrimage to Hiyoriyama Park in the center of Ishinomaki from where we observed the city's waterfront districts.

Badly hit coastal district of Ishinomaki viewed from Hiyoriyama Park

Compare: Sep 2019 - Apr 2019 - Apr 2018 - Apr 2017 - May 2016 - Apr 2014 - Apr 2012 - Apr 2011

Badly hit coastal district of Ishinomaki viewed from Hiyoriyama Park

Compare: Sep 2019 - Apr 2019 - Apr 2018 - Apr 2017 - May 2016 - Nov 2015 - Apr 2014 - Apr 2012 - Oct 2011 - Apr 2011

Ishinomaki's memorial park will be built in this coastal district, viewed from Hiyoriyama Park

Compare: Sep 2019 - Apr 2019 - Oct 2018 - Apr 2011

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