RECONSTRUCTION FOLLOWING THE 2011 TOHOKU EARTHQUAKE
TSUNAMI: CASE STUDY OF OTSUCHI TOWN IN IWATE PREFECTURE,
, M. Onuki, I. Ikeda, T. Akiyama
The 2011 Tohoku Earthquake tsunami caused great devastation throughout the North-
Eastern coast of Japan. Following the disaster important reconstruction efforts are currently
underway to improve the safety and resilience of coastal communities against future events.
To do so the government is investing considerable resources in the creation of a true
modern multi-layer safety system, involving reclassifying coastal areas into “Disaster
Hazard Areas” where only businesses and public use areas are allowed, and residential
areas where people should live. These residential areas are being elevated throughout the
region, theoretically ensuring that people living in them should be safer in the case coastal
defences are overcome by a tsunami in the future. Important efforts are also being made to
promote cultural awareness about the need to evacuate and to improve evacuation routes.
The present chapter will discuss various reconstruction issues, including the ever-present
dilemma inherent to any disaster reconstruction process were the need to improve disaster
resilience is confronted with the desires of survivors to rebuild their houses and livelihoods
as quickly as possible. The authors will use Otsuchi Town in Iwate prefecture as a case
study, as this was one of the settlements worst hit by the disaster that can serve to highlight
the particular socio-economical and demographic challenges facing the region.
Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, 5-1-5 Kashiwanoha, Chiba, 277-8563, Japan
Fig. 6. Ongoing civil engineering works to elevate the downtown area of Machikata in
Otsuchi Town (September 2014)
The 2011 tsunami has fundamentally altered the Coastal Disaster Management philosophy
of Japan in general, and the Sanriku coastline in particular. At the heart of this change are
very important philosophical considerations, regarding whether hard or soft types of
tsunami counter-measures should be preferred, and the impact that these have on the beauty
of an area, the feeling that local inhabitants have about them, and the need to defend from
the frequent hazards that strike the coastline.
Prior to 2011, the Sanriku coastline boosted one of the highest levels of awareness against
tsunamis (Esteban et al., 2013, Chapter 11), and this event has further increased this
awareness. What is more, the national and prefectural governments are making major
financial investments to improve all layers of defence, and create a truly modern multi-
layered defence system. To do so, important adjustments are being made to land usage, by
reclassifying coastal areas into “Disaster Hazard Areas” where only businesses and public
use areas are allowed, and residential areas where people should live. These residential
areas are being elevated throughout the region, theoretically ensuring that people living in
them should be safer in case that layer 1 coastal defences are overcome by a tsunami.
Important efforts are also being made to promote cultural awareness about the need to
evacuate, and to improve evacuation routes. The present chapter also highlighted the
problems inherent in such ambitious rebuilding efforts. Essentially, in reconstruction there
is an ever-present dilemma were the need to improve disaster resilience is confronted with
the desires of survivors to rebuild their houses and livelihoods as quickly as possible (see
also Chapter 27). Many of the survivors are currently living in temporary shelters, a
situation which is far from ideal, and clearly wish to return to where they once lived.
Finally, reconstruction efforts must also face the demographic reality of the area. Many of
the towns were already facing rapid population aging and decline before the 2011 event,
which served as a further population decrease catalyst. As a result, it is believed that
probably the population of many of the smaller coastal towns, such as Otsuchi, might have
halved as a consequence of the disaster. For the area to sustainably develop in the future it
will also be necessary to manage this population decline, which would otherwise eventually
result in a huge waste of reconstruction resources.
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