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Japan’s Quake/Tsunami 3rd Anniversary


The impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on the more than the 300,000 Japanese refugees who are not due to Fukushima. The news coverage is about double of the 2nd anniversary.

Miyagi Prefecture’s coastline was one of the most tsunami-devastated regions of March 11, 2011. A most-often mentioned community is Sendai City, where many heart-wrenching videos were shot by residents using their smart phones. The world watched as the sea-surge overwhelmed the off-shore tsunami barriers and swept away tree groves planted to protect people from that kind of disaster. The water did not stop, it did not even slow down. It simply kept coming, devouring fields and homes and streets, pushing ever-deeper inland. Over 1,300 Sendai residents died and thousands more were made permanently homeless by the raging torrent. Three years have passed and nearly all of Sendai’s debris and hardened mud left by the tsunami have been removed. What is left is a virtual no-man’s land devoid of human life. A few new anti-tsunami sea walls are being built through government funding, and new wave-mitigating trees have been planted, but the towns and residences that once filled the coast are not being repopulated due to post-3/11/11 government restrictions. Some refugees live in cramped temporary apartments hastily built by the government, while others have relocated to locally-funded housing units further inland. Still more have lost their patience and moved to other parts of Japan to find new homes and jobs. http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140312p2a00m0na003000c.html
The situation in Sendai is representative of the entire 400 kilometer coastline, stretching from southern Fukushima to northern Iwate Prefectures. More than 450,000 people fled the coastline and over 300,000 lost everything to the relentless seawater onslaught. About 20,000 are listed as killed or missing by the Tohoku region police. It is estimated that 267,000 remain refugees; numbers that include roughly 70,000 people who remain estranged from the Fukushima nuclear evacuation zone. 97,000 Tohoku region refugees now live in make-shift housing units, most of which were built for nuclear evacuees. Most, if not all tsunami-devastated communities suffer from a slow rate of reconstruction and an ever-increasing exodus of former residents. On the third anniversary, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged greater help to the refugees, "We are entering the fourth year [since the tsunami]. I want to make this a year in which [people] can achieve greater reconstruction than before." But, his words are little solace to those who remain homeless and hopeless. They feel they have been forgotten. http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140310p2g00m0dm045000c.html
Disaster support workers say survivors find it difficult to seek help in a country that generally stigmatizes mental suffering and prizes quiet stoicism. Tsuyoshi Akiyama, chairman of the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology’s disaster support committee, says, “Japanese hesitate to use mental health support - not only mental health support, but support in general.” In other words, the existing disaster refugees are culturally conditioned to suffer in silence, especially those not from the nuclear evacuation zone. One prime example is the town of Rikuzentakata, Miyagi Prefecture, where approximately 2,300 were killed on that fateful day min March, 2011; fully 10% of the city’s population. Most news reports have said the city was literally “wiped off the map”. Some 5,000 Rikuzentakata refugees remain in temporary shelters with their lives literally on hold. Most of the tsunami debris has been removed, replaced by an overgrown no-man’s land where the community once stood. At night, darkness and eerie silence envelops everything. Now, three years after their day of horror, frustration is causing resentment between those who had the means to rebuild homes inland, and those who could not afford it themselves. Ayako Sato, a psychologist hired by the Rikuzentakata city board, says, “In the first year, there [was] a collective feeling of working together, of overcoming this together. In the second year, everyone wants to help each other because everyone suffered a loss in the disaster. But by the third year, you start to see a rift in living standards. People drift apart.” Another issue concerns those who have developed mental health problems, and related post-disaster suicides. Though such distress is not uncommon, the exact number of sufferers is not known. City Hall lists the number of post-disaster suicides at three. It is a dire and depressing situation. Rikuzentakata Mayor Futoshi Toba, who lost his wife in the tsunami, says the city must do what it can to rebuild, “There are people who feel better when they speak to someone, and then there are those who feel more traumatized when they remember the past.” http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/tsunami-survivors-suffer-in-silence-three-years-after-disaster?utm_campaign=jt_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_source=jt_newsletter_2014-03-09_PM
All along the ~100-mile-long Miyagi coast, giant sea walls are slowly rising, designed to protect the region from being wrecked by another tsunami. Most of the cost is being paid by Tokyo. However, some Japanese don’t like it, including the Prime Minister’s wife! Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, is having a 17-foot high sea wall erected, but many residents are upset with it. Fisherman Makoto Hatakeyama said, “We love this scenery and we’re worried about the environmental impact of sea wall construction, which would affect my livelihood.” But, Kesennuma official Mitsutaka Kodama from Miyagi’s harbor restoration department says that protecting the coast is more important. “Residential areas and evacuation routes must be protected by high walls.” At Oya Beach, Miyagi, residents don’t like the idea of a 30-feet high wall because it would block the view of the sea. Oya Beach was a seaside resort before 3/11/11. Local resident Tomoyuki Miura said, “Lots of us went to the shore, locals and out-of-towners alike. It was the pride of our community.” Oya dissidents wanted the government to consider other alternatives. Finally, the plans were changed to erect a 14-feet high barrier instead of the 30-foot one. The fact that the 3/11/11 tsunami was over 21 feet high seems to have been forgotten.
Japan’s First Lady Akie Abe supports the Kesennuma tsunami wall dissidents. She says that while the original plans met government standards, she feels the planned wall might not protect the community from worst-case waves that may be higher than 3/11/11. Plus, she believes it will harm the natural ecosystem and make the beaches unattractive.  “While I do understand that seawalls need to have a certain height, I couldn't see how standards for the size of the construction were decided. The massive seawalls would work against local needs by destroying an ecosystem and creating unattractive areas where people can't see the ocean. They are costly and I don't think the government should build what is more than necessary.” The Miyagi governor, Yoshihiro Murai, disagrees and told Mrs. Abe why. He said he saw many who lost everything and doesn’t want his people to suffer like that again. But, the First Lady responded, "Not everyone agrees with the project. Even if the seawalls offer safety to towns, it would be meaningless if they became unappealing to young people and drove them out of the towns." She says no Kesennuma resident told her they want the wall, so she must support those who have said they are against it. http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140312p2a00m0na014000c.html
Not all of the third anniversary reports were as gloomy or short-sighted as those above. Three stand out, in this writer’s opinion. The first concerns the Miyagi town of Onagawa. Before addressing the third anniversary Onagawa report, some background seems warranted. The town was likely the closest to the 3/11/11 earthquake of any along the Tohoku coastline and experienced what many sources say was the worst ground movement of any location in Japan. Onagawa was also the first town to be struck by the tsunami. The town is squeezed between the foothills of nearby mountains and the sea. Thus, the majority of the more than 11,000 people living there were clustered within a kilometer of the ocean. The peak water surge was more than 15 meters (~fifty feet) high, engulfing everything within a kilometer of the shore. 1,300 Onagawa residents are listed as dead or missing, which is more than a tenth of the pre-disaster population. The tsunami produced horrific devastation to Onagawa.  
The town is also host to the Onagawa nuclear station. The station was built with a shore-line sea wall more than 14 meters (46 feet) above mean sea level, and was hit by a 13 meter-high wave, so it was virtually unaffected by the tsunami. However, hundreds of people living near the station fled there after the earthquake, fearing a tsunami was on the way. All of them were spared the mortal impact of the sea-torrent, although all of them had their homes completely swept away. Nearly all stayed at the station for the first week after the catastrophe, fed and bedded as guests of the Tohoku Power Company. Many stayed longer, until they could find suitable temporary housing elsewhere. Although the Onagawa station proved that well-designed nukes can withstand the worst Mother Nature has to offer, precious little has been reported in the Press about this incredible success story.
Our Kesennuma third anniversary story also concerns an architect, Shigeru Ban, who designed and built a 189-unit apartment facility for refugees on a city sports complex. The units are tiny, ranging between 200 square feet and 400 ft2, and people taking refuge there find them efficiently-built and comfortable. The apartments contain shelves and adjustable-height tables to allow effective use of space, bringing praise from the evacuees. As a result, Ban has received the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140325p2a00m0na007000c.html
The second un-gloomy report concerns the Kamaishi Hikari seafood processing factory of Toni, Japan. The entire Toni port was obliterated by the tsunami. About about half of Toni’s 1,800 remaining residents are living in temporary housing, but many have left or plan to leave because they cannot afford to wait for the help promised by Tokyo after 3/11/11. More than 25,000 emergency housing units were promised for the refugees along the coastline, but (as those who follow Fukushima Accident Updates already know) only about 2,000 have been built, and about the same number languish in partial completion. The remaining more than 20,000 promised units are unstarted due to administrative hang-ups and lack of funds.
Kamaishi Hikari only employs 25 people, but it does provide a place where hundreds of local fishermen can sell their catches of octopus, squid, salmon and mackerel at above-scale prices. Company head Shoichi Sato says, “I need to be able to pay the fishermen more for their fish, or they won’t manage to stay in business. That’s apart from making any money here ourselves.” The processing facility seems to be the only Toni business that has restarted in the last three years. Businesses throughout the Tohoku region face many obstacles to recovery including shortages of financing and construction workers and materials, lengthy delays in administrative approvals, and overburdened transport networks. With the seafood company, it was the Qatar Fund Foundation and other philanthropic groups that provided monies to buy equipment and give advice on how to best run the new business. However, Mr. Sato says they got “zero” help from Tokyo because the government refuses to subsidize new businesses. In addition, it took the prefectural government over a year to approve the siting of Sato’s little factory, which uses an innovative freezing process to package fish, seafood and seaweed for direct sales to a Tokyo supermarket and a sushi chain.
The problems overcome by Sato are all-too common with respect to Tohoku recovery. In Miyagi, only 18 of the 142 ports wiped out in the disaster have reopened. If the roadblocks and delays that face tsunami-devastated Tohoku were happening to Fukushima evacuees, the Press would be all over it like white on rice. But, because it is not a Fukushima nuclear-related issue, it has been virtually ignored until now. Hopefully, articles like this will begin to bring the kind of Press focus the tsunami victims deserve. Otherwise, the tsunami refugees will forever be known as Kimin - Japan’s forgotten people. http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/tsunami-wrecked-fishing-ports-find-new-life?utm_campaign=jt_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_source=jt_newsletter_2014-03-17_AM
Finally, we come to what may well be the first report concerning a tsunami victim who formerly resided inside the Fukushima evacuation zone. Yukari Tanaka lived along the shoreline of Futaba, one of F. Daiichi’s two host communities. Her father worked in the security group at the power station. On the morning of March 11, 2011, Yukari and her father talked over breakfast and planned to have some work done on the family car in the coming days. He had the day off, so she took the car to her job. When the tsunami hit that afternoon, her father was washed away by the raging torrent. Her mother managed to escape and took shelter for the night. Mom and daughter reunited the next morning and set out to find Yukari’s father. However, they were told they had to leave the Futaba area because of the evacuation order issued from Tokyo. They first stayed in a neighboring town, but were eventually forced to move to a neighboring prefecture when the evacuation zone was expanded.
It was 40 days before her father’s body was found beneath the roof of their home, which was more than 100 meters from where their house had stood. Yukari says he was never given a proper burial, which troubles her. She has since settled in Iwake, Fukushima Prefecture. She works at a funeral ceremonial hall; the same job she had before 3/11/11. She has no intention of moving back to Futaba because the memories of her father and their home are too painful, "Even now, three years later, the disaster is still sad and painful for those who survived. We will never forget, as long as we live, as we keep moving forward." http://mainichi.jp/english/english/features/news/20140312p2a00m0na016000c.html 
Yukari’s story differs little from those among the 300,000 tsunami refugees who also lost loved ones along with their homes, all along the 400 kilometer coastline. What is most striking about this article is that, other than mention of her father’s job, there is nothing about the nuclear accident or Ms. Tanaka being afraid to return home because of radiation anxieties. This is the first report I have seen about a Fukushima evacuee that did not include the issues of compensation, cramped living conditions, and fear of radiation. Further, it is also the only article I’ve come across about a Fukushima evacuee who is also a tsunami refugee. The tsunami killed more than 1,600 Fukushima residents, and there can be no doubt that many thousands more lost their homes and all belongings to the massive seawater surge. Their stories should be heard. Unfortunately, it has taken three years for the first such story to be posted in the Japanese Press.
As a wrap-up, we turn to a comprehensive Nippon.com report on the condition of the tsunami refugees at the third anniversary of the cataclysm. The numbers in this report distinguish between tsunami victims and those displaced by the Fukushima accident. This distinction is quite unique among the reports found in the rest of the Japanese Press. Here’s what Nippon.com tells us…
As of February 13, there were still more than 267,000 tsunami refugees, which is a drop of 47,000 from the same time last year. Much of the lower refugee numbers are due to people giving up and permanently moving to other parts of Japan. More than 150,000 continue to live with families or friends and another 100,000 now live in 46,000 temporary housing units across eight prefectures. The effort to re-house these victims still lags well-behind what had been planned. Much of this problem stems from delays to build the government’s permanent “restoration housing” complexes where most refugees formerly lived; only 2% have actually been built. Only 5% of the locally-planned community relocation projects have been completed and 64% are in varying degrees of completion.
Local business recovery is faring even worse. While the construction and “haulage” businesses are at 66% and 42% of pre-disaster levels respectively, the food and fisheries sector is only at 14%. Wholesale, retail and service commerce is at about a 31% level. Fish catches are at 69% and processing plants at 78% of pre-3/11/11 levels, but restrictions on marketing required by Tokyo due to possible Fukushima contamination has severely hurt income. Rumors of Fukushima seafood being contaminated have also hurt sales outside the Tohoku region. The lag with business recovery is worse in Fukushima prefecture than in the other four most damaged by the tsunami. However, the good news is that farming in Iwate Prefecture is actually at 101% of pre-disaster levels, Miyagi Prefecture is at 99%, and Fukushima Prefecture is at 85%. The lower percentage for Fukushima is largely due to the remaining exclusion-mandated areas surrounding Fukushima Daiichi. http://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00049/
 

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Below is a comment from a reader living in Japan, concerning the anti-tsunami seawall debate first posted in Commentary on March 28, 2014...

Really? Dying for a view of the sea? Dying for the ecosystem? What do tsunami's do to the ecosystem? It's natural, right? Like botulism toxin? Have a teaspoon of that with your designer coffee! 
Every one of these loons should be marched though Fudai to see the difference a seawall can make in saving 3000 lives, their home, and their businesses. 
"The huge sea wall and floodgates took 12 years to build and had been widely regarded as a £20million folly. But today one former Japanese mayor is being hailed as a savior after the grandiose construction allowed his small town escaped the devastation wrought by the March 11 tsunami. In the rubble of Japan's northeast coast, Fudai stands as tall as ever after. No homes were swept away. In fact, they barely got wet. The 3,000 residents owe their lives to the late Kotaku Wamura, who lived through an earlier tsunami and made it a priority of his four-decade tenure as mayor to defend his people from the next one."
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1386978/The-Japanese-mayor-laughed-building-huge-sea-wall--village-left-untouched-tsunami.html 
Some issues may have 50 shades of gray. This isn't one of them. There's black and white. Kill the people...Save the people...Pick one. The Japanese government should give Kotaku Wamura their highest possible posthumous award, somewhere along the lines of a USA Congressional Medal of Honor or a Nobel Peace Prize. Rarely does one man's leadership single handedly save 3000 lives. Numerically, that's like a reverse September 11, a reverse Pearl Harbor! Where is Wamura's due recognition? Where is his bigger than life statue?