One Year After The Great East Japan Earthquake (March 11, 2011)

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the Pacific coast of Tohoku in Japan. One year later, Japan rebuilds its towns, schools, fisheries, and… hearts.

AsianScientist (Mar. 9, 2012) – On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the Pacific coast of Tohoku in Japan.

The 2011 Tōhoku-Oki earthquake was the most powerful known earthquake ever to have hit Japan, and it triggered a powerful tsunami and sparked a nuclear crisis and health scare.

NASA researchers later discovered that the destructive tsunami generated by the earthquake was a long-hypothesized “merging tsunami” that doubled in intensity over rugged ocean ridges, amplifying its destructive power before reaching shore.

Satellites captured not just one wave front that day, but at least two, which merged to form a single double-high wave far out at sea – one capable of traveling long distances without losing its power.

At the one year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, together with international and local support, Japan is slowly rebuilding its towns, schools, and fisheries through acts of resilience and sheer courage.

Resilience: Sunflowers to decontaminate toxic soil

The Japan earthquake and tsunami did more than just cause destruction to houses and roads; it caused severe structural damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, knocking out its water cooling systems and melting the fuel rods inside several reactors, sparking explosions.

In response, Japan raised the crisis level at the beleaguered plant from 5 to 7 – the highest level on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale for rating nuclear accidents. Food and water safety was also a concern, aside from the health implications of exposure to ionizing radiation.

Shortly after the crisis, a group from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), led by Prof. Masamichi Yamashita, grew sunflowers around the nuclear plant to remove soil contamination of cesium.

Radioactive cesium is similar to kalium, a commonly used fertilizer. If kalium is not present, sunflowers will absorb cesium instead. This move was similar to after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, where sunflowers and rape blossoms were used to decontaminate soil in Ukraine.

Starting with 300 kilograms of sunflower seeds, the group has sown sunflower seeds in the 30-kilometer region around the Fukushima plant.

Aside from their task of removing radioactive cesium from the soil, the team also hoped that their sunflowers would become a symbol of recovery in the areas affected by the nuclear crisis.

Recovery: UNESCO’s Kizuna Campaign

UNESCO’s Kizuna campaign, which led to 30,000 messages of friendship from students around the world being sent to their peers in the devastated areas, has brightened the faces of students at Nakano School in Sendai.

During a visit to the UNESCO Associated School Network member school on February 14 last month, Director-General Irina Bokova witnessed both the destruction and the recovery underway.

“I lived in a shelter for four months with my family,” said Rikko, whose school has been relocated since the tsunami. “I was very uncertain about the future. Many people came to encourage us. UNESCO and the world were there to support us when we thought we had lost everything.”

Teachers are also grateful for the outpouring of support from students across the world.

“Smiles are coming back on the children’s faces and we are grateful to UNESCO for its support and solidarity,” said the school principal Mr. Mitsuru Takahashi.

“After the earthquake, we had to postpone environmental studies. We started a program of mental care to study in the classroom. Our goal is to make every student able to live their daily school life in a stable condition and sound environment.”

At Tohoku University, one of Japan’s leading institutions, research equipment, libraries and utilities were damaged, but the university also turned adversity into solidarity.

“We are setting up a new international research institute on disaster science to conduct outcome-oriented research, share experiences internationally and promote cooperation in disaster science,” said the University’s Vice president Mr. Yukihisa Kitamura.

Return to normalcy: The coastal town of Minami Sanriku

The town of Minami Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture (Photo: Jerry Velasquez/UNISDR).

Almost one year ago, Minami Sanriku was one of many coastal towns in the Northern Miyagi Prefecture that was devastated by the Tōhoku-Oki earthquake and tsunami. Of its 17,666 residents, some 800 people died after 15-meter tsunami waves pounded the coastal areas.

Today, the town is trying to get back its life, thanks to the help of the 50,000 volunteers and hundreds of residents who, together with government agencies, have worked day and night to clear damage caused by the disaster.

“The double disaster was a real tragedy for all of us,” said, Shuji Kounosu, a local resident. “But it has had an incredible positive effect on all of us as it revived the “koh” tradition (the tradition of helping each other), which was previously anchored in the Japanese traditional way of living. This has helped us so much to regain confidence in the future.”

And as of last month, a group of 20 universities in Tokyo, including Taisho University and Rikkyo University, have pledged to launch the Minami Sanriku Volunteers Network for the Revival of Tohoku, which will help rebuild local industries, promote tourism, and provide farming assistance.

Fishermen who lost their fishing boats and homes have formed a cooperative in Minami Sanriku near Shizukawa fishing port, and Miyagi Governer Yoshihiro Murai has called for the establishment of a “special reconstruction zone for fisheries.”

Prof. Takashi Onishi of the University of Tokyo and President of the Science Council of Japan, has recommended using a community-focused public-private-partnership called ‘Machizukuri Corporation’ to rebuild local services such as health care and welfare, schools, and energy supplies.

“You can have all the walls you want to protect you but what makes a big difference are the community spirit and the solidarity between people,” Kounosu added.


Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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