During Summer 2012 the Japan Foundation awarded me a short-term JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) fellowship (nomiated by Social Science Research Council, SSRC) to observe ongoing recovery planning processes in Japan following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the east coast of northern Japan has devastated coastal communities in the Tohoku region and caused permanent land subsidence in multiple cities and towns in the Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures.
I visited Japan from May to August 2012 to examine how coastal municipalities in the Tohoku region employ and negotiate land use change strategies to adapt to coastal land subsidence and subsequent sea level rise. Tensions between the urgency to rebuild quickly and the need for long term land use change adaptation underlie planning and rebuilding processes that are inherently long, messy, and fraught with conflict. My research objective is to identify long term land use change patterns, document adaptation strategies among coastal communities impacted by the disaster, and assess how communities negotiate the associated processes and conflicts.
I visited several cities and towns in the Tohoku region that are impacted by the tsunami and conducted interviews with local government officials, business owners, NGOs, people living in temporary housing, and academics working directly with cities and communities as consultants and advisors.
The destruction caused by the tsunami was still raw one year after the event. Being there on the ground really brought home the scale of the devastation. Recorded footage of the tsunami on TV news and YouTube videos playing repeatedly are indeed shocking but somehow seem disconnected from the actual event. What was once the center of the town, I was now standing in the middle of a vast field with empty lots and foundations that were still not dug out. Driving past mountains and mountains of sorted debris that were once part of these cities, towns and communities. Sea walls with each slab the size of a three story building toppled over.
Talking with people, being there, and looking at what they were talking about underscored the complex recovery processes facing the communities I visited. What they want, why, how they are thinking and how challenging it must be to articulate their goals in their situation.
The places I visited are plotted on the Google map here, adding a few pictures and notes. You can click the pin to learn the details of the location. You can also view it in a larger map.