Today I returned to Tohoku. My expectations were completely hit out of the ball park. I first visited the east coast of Tohoku (Fukushima & Miyagi Prefectures) 5 years ago to see the devastation left by the force of a M9.0 earthquake and tsunami that went as far as 6km inland and reached a height of 20 metres. No video does any justice. The Japanese Reconstruction Agency allocated $250bn to clean away the waste and start building sea walls and infrastructure. I rode over 100km of coast and I can only think that number is way too low. The picture below shows what had to be cleaned up in the town of Minamisanriku. That was a 3yr operation.
Every corner had dozens of earth movers which were building the ramparts. Dump trucks were hauling massive concrete slabs to lay on top of earth mounds. We’re talking over 100km of walls. We’re talking brand new highways connecting these fishing villages. New houses have been built by the hundred high on the hills accessed by brand new roads with no dwellings near sea level. Makeshift convenience stores are commonplace. We dined in a new ‘mini makeshift mall’ where locals operated restaurants and souvenir stores.
This building was four days old. The sitehad a mobile post office for convenience guarded by a 66yo man who lived in Kessenuma, 35km further north.
Kessunuma was famous for this boat that was washed 2km inland.
Hatakiyama-San said that things were slowly getting back to normality but there was still a long way to go. He rides a Harley-Davidson which he bought after the quake because after the horror of losing his home and almost his life he made a pledge to enjoy his life.
For the life of me I can’t work out how so much could be done for only $250bn in the first 5 years. 2016-2020 brings an extra $65bn to the fund but looking at how much has been spent to date I’m guessing the figure is closer to $500bn.
After visiting 5 years ago, I never in my wildest dreams could imagine how many houses, bridges, apartment buildings, sea walls, roads etc could have been constructed. In the large port town of Ishinomaki I’m guessing $250bn has spent on it alone. Not only are sea walls being erected out to sea, a back up a 15m wall is being built 100m behind the seaside to make sure of it. EVERYTHING within 1km of the sea is NEW. EVERYTHING.
I almost wonder whether this has now become a major jobs creation scheme like the New Deal. In many areas the sea walls seem surplus to requirements. Thousands upon thousands of concrete wave blockers are lined across the shoreline. Container type housing for workers numbers in the thousands. These guys must be getting some good coin. Many are young, unlike Tokyo where most workers you see at sites are much older.
Fukushima is a different story. We visited Namie and Tomioka, nearby the reactor. Ghost towns, often cordoned off. New highway service areas note radiation levels along the way.
I remain speechless at what I saw. I thought these towns would be left to die. This is a full speed ahead project and speaking to the locals confirms they don’t want to leave. Fighters to the end. 350,000 homes were destroyed in 2011. 16,000 killed by the tsunami. In 2017 there seems to be a lot to pride among the locals to prove their mettle. Ganbare Tohoku! You proved me wrong.