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Reflections on 2024 Noto earthquake: do we need to pay more attention to the ‘human’ element of disaster?

By Miwako Kitamura, on 3 May 2024

photograph of debris from a destroyed house. A surviving piece of wooden furniture stands in the foreground
Houses destroyed by the 2024 Noto earthquake in Anamizu, 16 April 2024

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Noto Peninsula of Japan on New Year’s Day in 2024. Family members had come home to celebrate the New Year when the earthquake hit. Japan has a high level of awareness on disaster preparedness and mitigation. Despite this, more than 240 people lost their lives, 60,000 buildings were damaged and 25,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes. It is important to note that the deaths were caused by the earthquake where several buildings, especially the old structures collapsed. The new year’s earthquake also caused a tsunami, which arrived only a few minutes after the earthquake. However, the majority of people died from earthquakes, with only two people killed by the tsunami, which shows high awareness about tsunami preparedness among the general population, compared to the earthquakes. This shows more work needs to be done on earthquake preparedness in Japan, beyond a focus on developing and investing in resilient infrastructure.

In this short blog, we will shed some light on the experiences of people who are managing the evacuation centres, especially those evacuation centres that are led by the community. We will examine the current situation by putting gender and communities at the centre of our analysis.

photograph of a large room with two long tables in the middle of the room. Books stacked up on the left wall. Chairs, blankets, and some kitchen equipment stacked on the right wall. Blankets stacked up against back windows too.
Community Evacuation Centre, in Sunran No Sato Kobushi. Photo taken on 16 April 2024

Although there are many government run evacuation centres, there are also several community-run evacuation centres. In Japan, community-led shelters are commonly referred to as “voluntary shelters.” Leaders of these shelters typically include local community figures and temple and shrine heads, and, as observed during the Great East Japan Earthquake, leaders of traditional performing arts groups have frequently assumed these roles. Importantly, the foremost consideration for these community-oriented shelters is their trustworthiness. What we found was that due to the gender division of labour, which is still strongly present in Japanese society, taking care of the people in the evacuation centres becomes and remains the responsibility of women, including cooking, cleaning, and caretaking roles.

One important thing to note here is that these women, often wives/daughters/daughters-in-law, of the community leaders who automatically become the caretaker of the entire community in the times of crisis, are themselves the survivors of such events. However, they need to sacrifice their own needs and look after others. With harmony being the central key in Japanese social organisation, speaking of their own needs is seen as being selfish. Hence, no one is willing to do that: they would rather suffer than to bear the consequences of social stigma. This creates an environment where these women who are responsible for running the evacuation are often double victims: victims of the disaster and also the victims of post-disaster responsibilities.  

The person responsible for one of the evacuation centres we visited said it is comparatively manageable soon after the disaster as we only need to manage their immediate needs and there are more volunteers. However, as the time passes, people would like their normal life to return, which means a need for proper meals, proper sanitation, healthcare services, better accommodation and so on. The volunteers often go back to everyday life and the support from the government often dries out in about three months but the needs of those who are left behind – still in evacuation centres for various reasons – remain or they need even further support. Hence, taking care of the evacuees becomes a bigger responsibility, which needs to be factored into the discussions around disaster mitigation.

As evidenced during fieldwork and engagement activities in the communities affected by the earthquake in Noto, there are key local contexts and practices which must be appreciated and factored into future preparedness and response activities for disaster risk reduction. Discussions with stakeholders and local leaders for example highlighted the central value of community involvement in shaping and informing responses to disasters.

Photograph of rubble from a destroyed building.
Houses destroyed by the 2024 Noto earthquake in Anamizu, 16 April 2024

While it was reported that affected communities following the earthquake were more reserved in their engagement with the national government, they engaged readily and openly when responses were designed and driven by local communities, as evidenced by the creation of these community evacuation centres. These observations on the need to centre community involvement in disaster risk reduction and response are further substantiated by existing evidence from another disaster case study in Japan— the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which underscored a similar significance regarding the importance of contextually-appropriate and community-supported activities for disaster risk reduction and preparedness and response to events including earthquakes and tsunamis in regionally and geographically diverse countries, like Japan.

Our visit to the Noto Peninsula also revealed important observations and considerations on local understandings of leadership in disaster contexts, and how entrenched and gendered understandings of what constitute leadership can serve as a barrier to further vital involvement and participation of communities during events like earthquakes.  This was made apparent during discussions with female local leaders in Noto who had noted and reflected on how, despite their extensive involvement in disaster response and support activities, they did not consider themselves to be ‘leaders’ in these disaster contexts. Instead, many of their channels of leadership and support, including organising community efforts, food provision and emotional support had been regarded as traditionally ‘female’ associated practices and expectations rather than leadership roles during emergencies like earthquakes.

Again, this underscores the need to integrate local thinking and contexts in working to improve and promote local leadership during disasters in Japan by including gender frameworks to uncover how existing power dynamics and divisions of labour produce inequitable understandings of leadership, and where possible and when contextually-appropriate, to engage and work with these local communities to promote and centre diverse profiles and practices of disaster leadership and engagement of women and gender-diverse communities.

Our observations from these fieldwork activities investigating gender and women’s leadership in the Noto Peninsula also hold broader importance for the fields of disaster risk reduction and global health beyond preparing for and responding to earthquakes. Japan continues to be vulnerable to a broad scope of public health risks including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic activity, floods, typhoons and the climate change emergency. Despite ongoing disaster and resilience planning, there remains a critical need for the ongoing consideration and integration of gender-focused and community-centred participation and leadership activities as revealed during these fieldwork engagements to ensure that future responses and recovery to these events are both sustainable and equitable. 


Co-authors

Dr Miwako Kitamura is an Assistant Professor at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University

Dr Anawat Suppasri is an Associate Professor at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University

Ms Hayley Leggett is a PhD candidate at the School of Engineering at Tohoku University

Dr Anna Matsukawa is an Associate Professor at University of Hyogo

Dr Stephen Roberts is Lecturer in Global Health at the Institute for Global Health at University College London

Dr Punam Yadav is an Associate Professor at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author(s).

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What Do Students of Disaster Research?

By Joshua Anthony, on 12 October 2022

As a trans-disciplinary department, the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) fosters disaster-risk research from a variety of perspectives and experience. From previous and ongoing crises to future perils, work done by our staff and students is positioned to respond to the increasing necessity for disaster research imposed by unrelenting exposure to hazards and vulnerabilities. Students attending IRDR learn about these complex interactions and develop the skills needed to assess the many dimensions of disaster. This article presents a short collection of research projects conducted by some of our master’s students.


Evacuation Decision Model of Flood-Affected People in South Kalimantan, Indonesia

Flood is the most prominent hazard in South Kalimantan Province, Indonesia. On January 2021, South Kalimantan suffered from the most severe flood in the last 60 years, which inundated 10 out of 13 regencies/cities in the province. Moreover, the event generated over 100 thousand dollars of economic losses, nearly 80 thousand people affected, and 21 death tolls. As for December 2021, floods hit the province again and impacted several regions. To save more lives in future events, evacuation for people at risk is an important action in the emergency phase. However, evacuation decision-making involves complex variables such as sociodemographic conditions, capacity, risk, as well as warning systems. Therefore, this study aims to identify the significant variables that influence people’s evacuation decision.

This study will focus on two districts, one in Tabuk River District (rural area) and another one in West Banjarmasin District (urban area). The two regions were severely flooded in January and December 2021. Tabuk River District is frequently flooded due to fluvial (river) flooding, while West Banjarmasin District is frequently flooded due to tidal flooding. My data collection method will distribute questionnaires to people in the flood-affected area and data analysis will be conducted using a binomial regression model.

Khonsa Zulfa | khonsa.zulfa.21@ucl.ac.uk


Copula theory with applications to assess flood risk in the Calgary region, Canada

As a geologist, I have always been intrigued by the occurrence of extreme natural phenomena. For that reason I chose for my dissertation project the study area of Canada, and more specifically the region of South Alberta, in Calgary. Canada is a flood prone country, which has faced extreme floods over the years; however, the 2013 flood in southern Alberta was one of the costliest disasters in Canadian history. That being the case, I was really interested in identifying and estimating the potential flood risk in this particular region with the use of the copula theory, which is a statistical method that allows us to consider a number of factors related to flood risk, and then provide the right mitigation measures to tackle this hazard. In that way, we could understand the probability that a flood event of a particular intensity will occur over an extended period, and thus, make the right decisions to protect the general public from an imminent disaster—having always in mind that prevention is better than cure.

Kleoniki Theodoridou | kleoniki.theodoridou.20@alumni.ucl.ac.uk


Agent-Based Tsunami Evacuation Model for Tsunami Risk Assessment in Tanjung Benoa, Bali, Indonesia.

Bali, a world-famous tourist area, is one of Indonesia’s islands prone to megathrust earthquake-generated tsunamis with magnitudes up to M9.0 due to its location on the subduction zone between Eurasia and the Australia plate. Therefore, understanding risk and the ability to evacuate during tsunami is critical and essential to reducing the risk, which is mostly influenced by people-behaviour in decision-making. This study aims to model the tsunami evacuation to analyze the tsunami risk, including casualty estimation and shelter analysis in Tanjung Benoa village, Bali, Indonesia. This study includes tsunami hazard modelling using COMCOT v1.7 software, people-behaviour surveys about tsunami evacuation through questionnaires, and modelling the tsunami evacuation using agent-based model in NetLogo software. The tsunami model shows that the estimated arrival time ranges from 15-20 minutes with 15 meters of maximum tsunami height. Of 300 respondents, the majority (87.7%) will choose to evacuate by foot and the rest (12.3%) by vehicle, with the departure time 5 minutes after the shaking, resulting tsunami evacuation model with a casualty estimation of up to 22.2%. Improving the tsunami preparedness strategies is essential for the stakeholders—especially adding more vertical tsunami shelters, as this study also found that the capacity of the current shelters in Tanjung Benoa is still less than 50% of the total population.

Giovanni Cynthia Pradipta | giovanni.pradipta.21@ucl.ac.uk


How far do India’s Disaster Risk Reduction policies consider the sustainable livelihood needs of tribal women: A case of Keonjhar District, Odisha

In this study, I evaluated whether disaster risk reduction (DRR) policies reduce tribal women’s vulnerability and offer sustainable livelihood options. Moreover, I proposed ways to improve the effectiveness of these policies by identifying their shortcomings. Using a gender lens and Sendai Framework, this study contributes to the literature on the convergence of DRR with the Sustainable Development Goals in the context of the marginalized group of tribal women. Presently we don’t find any DRR policy explicitly addressing this issue of tribal women. Though different Central and State programs for reducing the overall vulnerability of women are in progress. The government is taking a variety of measures and gender-inclusive disaster governance is gradually gaining ground.

Swati Sharma | swati.sharma.21@ucl.ac.uk


The IRDR Master’s Programmes facilitate research in a wide variety of topics.

Thank you to our student contributors,

Joshua Anthony, Editor of IRDR blog.

Joshua.anthony.19@ucl.ac.uk | Please get in contact if you would like to contribute to this blog.

IRDR Masters student publishes Early Warning and Temporary Housing Research. This is part of the on-going collaboration between UCL-IRDR and IRIDeS-Tohoku University

By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 4 June 2018

Angus Naylor, an IRDR Masters student alumni and Masters Prize Winner, has published the research conducted for his Independent Research Project. The research was carried out as part of his MSc Risk, Disaster and Resilience with me, his project supervisor, and our collaborator at Tohoku University IRIDeS (International Research Institute of Disaster Science), Dr Anawat Suppasri.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, UCL-IRDR and Tohoku University IRIDeS wanted to join forces to learn more about both the fundamental science and impacts of disasters both in Japan and around the world. Naylor’s recently published paper adds to other collaborative outputs from the two institutes: Mildon et al., 2016, investigating Coulomb Stress Transfer within the area of earthquake hazard research; Suppasri et al., 2016 investigating fatality ratios following the 2011 Great East Japan Tsunami; and IRDR Special Report 2014-01 on the destruction from Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. The two institutions have met on a number of occasions, and have an upcoming symposium in October 2018.

In 2014, three and half years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami destroyed much of Tohoku’s coastline, I led and Dr Anawat Suppasri organised a joint UCL-IRDR and Tohoku University IRIDeS team, visiting residents of six temporary housing complexes in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. While there, we used written questionnaires and informal group interviews to investigate the suitability of early warning systems and the temporary housing among the elderly population affected by this event.

When analysing the results, we found overall that age was not the principal factor in affecting whether a warning was received, but did play a significant role regarding what was known before the warning was received, whether action was taken and how temporary and permanent housing was viewed. The results suggest that although the majority of respondents received some form of warning (81%), no one method of warning reached more than 45% of them, demonstrating the need for multiple forms of early warning system alerts. Furthermore, only half the respondents had prior knowledge of evacuation plans with few attending evacuation drills and there was a general lack of knowledge regarding shelter plans following a disaster. Regarding shelter, it seems that the “lessons learned” from the 1995 Kobe Earthquake were perhaps not so learnt, but rather many of the concerns raised among the elderly in temporary housing echoed the complaints from 16 years earlier: solitary living, too small, not enough heating or sound insulation and a lack of privacy.

An example of Temporary Housing following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami visited during the fieldwork for this study (Photograph: Dr Joanna Faure Walker)

The research supports previous assertions that disasters can increase the relative vulnerabilities of those already amongst the most vulnerable in society. This highlights that in order to increase resilience against future disasters, we need to consider the elderly and other vulnerable groups within the entire Early Warning System process from education to evacuation and for temporary housing in the transitional phase of recovery.

The paper, ‘Suitability of the early warning systems and temporary housing for the elderly population in the immediacy and transitional recovery phase of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami’ published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, can be accessed for free until 26th July here, after this date please click here for standard access.

The authors are grateful for the fieldwork funds which came from The Great British Sasakawa Foundation funding to UCL-IRDR and MEXT’s funding to IRIDeS. The joint UCL-IRDR1 and IRIDeS2 fieldwork team comprised Joanna Faure Walker1, Anawat Suppasri2, David Alexander1, Sebastian Penmellen Boret2, Peter Sammonds1, Rosanna Smith1, and Carine Yi2.

Angus Naylor is currently doing a PhD at Leeds University
Dr Joanna Faure Walker is a Senior Lecturer at UCL IRDR
Dr Anawat Suppasri is an Associate Professor at IRIDeS-Tohoku University

Two NGOs set up by the young people of Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan

By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 7 June 2013

Dr Joanna Faure Walker visited Rikuzentakata, one of the worst affected towns in the Iwate Prefecture, as part of the Great East Japan Earthquake EEFIT return mission. While there, she and her associates met with two NGOs: ‘Save Takata’ and ‘Sakura Line’ that were set up following the disaster.

Okamoto Shoma  and his mother Keiko Shoma in the Save Takata office

Okamoto Shoma and his
mother Keiko Shoma in the
Save Takata office,
Rikuzentakata

In March 2011, Okamoto Shoma was a twenty-year-old architecture student in Tokyo who had grown up in Rikuzentakata. Following the tsunami, Okamoto and some class mates from Tokyo spent one and a half days driving to Rikuzentakata with recovery supplies and gasoline.  Communications were down so Okamoto could not contact his mother, Keiko, whose house in Rikuzentakata had been destroyed by the tsunami. Fortunately he found her in an evacuation centre.

During the first month after the disaster, there were many requests from those outside the region about the residents’ safety and to make donations. Okamoto and his classmates formed Save Takata to help with coordination of the relief work; public services provided large-scale food and services, but additional help was needed to get smaller donations and reach small groups that needed assistance. It currently has a number of activities to help Rikuzentakata and its residents:

  1. Acting as a conduit and passive coordinator for people in Tokyo who want to donate money and expertise (examples include teaching and entertainment such as dance shows).
  2. Making up-to-date maps of Rikuzentakata permanent and temporary structures showing shop locations and distributing them to residents.  (Initially conditions were changing rapidly so maps were updated every two months, going forward they will be updated every six months.)
  3. Promoting Rikuzentakata products and selling them in Tokyo and other big cities. (In 2011, 200,000 volunteers went to Rikuzentakata and in 2012 there were 130,000; Save Takata hopes to use this network)
  4. Providing internet services and I.T. training for small businesses.
  5. Informing residents and businesses about which relevant schemes are available to help them from around the country. (A particularly popular donation – especially amongst the elderly population – were small Buddha statues for people’s temporary homes.)
  6. Coordinating entertainment events such as festivals for children.  (Keiko explained that although two years after the event the housing situation has become stable, people are bored and need community activities.)
  7. Renting a house for visiting volunteers; this house also acts as a meeting place and hub for activities for young people.

The Prefectural Government has made arrangements to employ people and dispatch them into jobs in NGOs; three of Save Takata’s eight full-time staff are with this scheme. Save Takata also has 2 part-time staff and 30 volunteer members. All staff originally volunteered their time, but now some salaries are being paid.  In the early stages they relied on donations from private companies, however now they need to apply for support from both the private and public sectors.  The organization is trying to transform from being a voluntary organization to having an increased amount of self-funding from the activities it organizes.

Save Takata’s future plans include producing a manual comprising the lessons learnt from setting up and running a NGO in a post disaster situation and being a NGO coordinator in potential future disasters as they recognize in a large disaster it is important to have good communication, coordination and organization between the different parties in the recovery process.

Okamoto is now also helping Sakura Line  – the NGO that shares an office with Save Takata in a one-year-old temporary shopping centre – that was started by Hashizume Takumi.

Temporary shopping centre housing Save Takata and Sakura Line

Temporary shopping centre housing
the offices of
Save Takata and Sakura Line

Hashizume, who acted as a volunteer fireman helping people evacuate and closing the tsunami gate, escaped to high ground with only a few minutes to spare before the tsunami arrived.  The disaster killed over fifty of his family and friends. Hashizume saw on television that historical tsunami had reached sacred places within cities in the region; he was angered when he saw there was a stone in Hinota marking where a historical tsunami had reached with a message instructing not to build houses lower than it. Hashizume feels it is his duty to pass on the message to future generations so decided to start Sakura Line, a project to create a continuous line of trees marking the border of the 2011 tsunami inundation.

One of the first cherry trees to be planted as part of the Sakura Line programme. Behind the tree is where downtown Rikuzentakata used to be.  The local government is currently raising the ground level to 12m above sea level  before reconstructing the town.

One of the first cherry trees to be planted as part
of the Sakura Line programme. Behind the tree is
where downtown Rikuzentakata used to be.
The local government is currently raising the
ground level to 12m above sea level before
reconstructing the town.

The first trees were planted near the Judo Temple and other sites around Rikuzentakata. So far they have planted 520 trees.   If completed, the line will extend beyond the city to become 170km long comprising 17,000 cherry trees. It is anticipated that it will take many years to finish. These trees live for about 100yrs so it is hoped that future generations will care for the trees and keep the line going. I hope his project receives the support it needs and acts as a successful reminder to future generations to help reduce the risk from future tsunami.

 

 

For more information on these projects see http://www.savetakata.org/en/ and http://www.sakura-line311.org/.

Dr Joanna Faure Walker was funded by EPSRC through EEFIT (http://www.eefit.org.uk). A new EEFIT report about observations made on the most recent trip in June 2013 will be available soon. The IRDR Special Report 2013-01 provides details about the observed damage and recovery of the Great East Japan Earthquake at and Tsunami in October 2012 (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/rdr/publications/IRDR-Special-Report-UK-Japan-Workshop) and the EEFIT Report provides observations from May-June 2011 (http://www.istructe.org/webtest/files/1d/1d158684-b77b-4856-99f8-2522fa25533b.pdf).

Tohoku University Research Visit and Japan Field Mission: March 2013

By Amy L Chadderton, on 26 April 2013

In March 2011, a Mw 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of Tohoku in northeast Japan. This earthquake triggered one of the largest tsunamis Japan has ever seen and devastated much of the coast. Three months after this historic event, EEFIT (the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team) began their Tohoku field mission. On the anniversary of this disastrous event, exactly 2 years after the fateful earthquake, BIS (UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills) funded myself and fellow PhD student Melodie Vanderpuye to undertake a brief follow-up mission to preliminarily scope the progress that has been made in rebuilding devastated areas. The week-long mission to Japan involved strengthening UK-Japan links via participation in the 10th International Workshop on Water Dynamics and ICDP Japan Beyond Brittle Project, and the undertaking of a 2-day field mission to tsunami-impacted areas.

Our week in Japan began with a fascinating 3 days at the 10th International Workshop on Water Dynamics and the ICDP Japan Beyond Brittle Project at Tohoku University, Sendai. The conference brought together a wide range of expertise from both the scientific and engineering communities and provided an interdisciplinary forum for the sharing and discussing of ideas.

Figure 1

The conference was not only informative, providing a brilliant insight into the issues I will be encountering during my PhD, but allowed relationships to be forged between industry representatives and the academic world.  During our time at the conference meetings were also held with the IRIDeS (International Research Institute of Disaster Science) representative Prof Fumihiko Imamura to discuss the agenda for the upcoming conference at UCL in November 2013, which marks the anniversary of the 150 year relationship between UCL and Japan.

Attending the conference we saw first-hand Japan’s praiseworthy desire to nurture international relationships between industry and academia. The hospitality at Tohoku University was second to non and we were looked after extremely well. The conference banquet at the end of the first day was a particular highlight, even if we were swaying slightly with exhaustion from our 12 hour flight and full conference day without any sleep!

After an enlightening 3 days at the conference it was Melodie and I’s turn to go it alone and explore Japan for ourselves in order to follow up on the EEFIT report compiled 2 years earlier. We also wanted to experience first-hand the impact of such a large magnitude, both in power and impact, event. We hired a car to give us the freedom we needed to explore the planned sites. The field mission began in Sendai and took a coastal route where possible, as certain roads still have not been rebuilt after the tsunami, as far north as Ofunato. With a slight nervous excitement regarding what we were going to find, we set off on Friday 15th March heading north towards the Miyagi Prefecture coastline, one of the worst hit sections of coast in Japan.

Heavily damaged railway station at Nobiru.

Railway station at Nobiru.

We were immediately struck by the impact of the tsunami at one of our first stops, Nobiru, a small town east of Matsushima. Nobiru showed no signs of redevelopment apart from a few individual residential homes. The tsunami destroyed the town’s railway station, twisting the tracks and overhead power lines and heavily damaging the station building and surrounding shops. The coastal road is still diverted due to unrepaired damage. It appears that due to the town’s lack of industrial prowess and significant strategic importance, redevelopment has not been a priority and the whole area is mostly abandoned. A similar situation was also observed at Wakabayashi on the coast of Sendai. This is an area of near-total devastation. The only new building within this entire area was a temporary structure housing a 7 Eleven convenience store. Wakabayashi was our final site on the last day of our field mission but despite the evidence of destruction we had observed over the previous 2 days, this final site really made the impact of the tsunami hit home. The utter hopelessness and vulnerability of Wakabayashi’s position coupled with the footprints of homes

Memorial at Wakabayashi, Sendai.

Memorial at Wakabayashi, Sendai.

where living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms were still visible really made us think about the impact of this event on individual families. It is very easy to quote statistics on damage to concrete and steel, and even death toll statistics can become quite meaningless and devoid of emotion when repeated so frequently, but on the ground, stood at the front door of what was once a happy family home, now a mere footprint on the earth, really compounded our belief that something needs to be done to prevent this devastation from occurring to future generations. A memorial stands on the shoreline at Wakabayashi, dedicated to all of the victims of the tsunami.

Rebuild Shop at Onagawa

Rebuild Shop at Onagawa

Sites where the outlook was more positive were Onagawa and Shizugawa Bay, which in contrast to Nobiru and Wakabayashi, showed clear signs of progress but had not quite reached the rebuilding stage of recovery. In Onagawa one indicator of the destruction the 16 metre inundation wave wrought on the bay has turned into an unlikely tourist attraction. A 3-storey steel framed, reinforced concrete building was overturned by the force of the water during the tsunami but remained intact. As images of the building have circled the globe and visitors to the area go out of their way to visit the site, the ruin is now being deliberately preserved as a monument and reminder of the power nature can wield. A car park has been cordoned off and a temporary ‘Rebuild Shop’ has sprung up to help raise funds for the redevelopment of the area.

Left: 2011 EEFIT report image of Building D; Right: Recent mission image of Building D

Left: 2011 EEFIT image of Building D; Right: 2013 image.

After a refreshing night in a Japanese style hotel room, complete with slippers, Tatami Mats and a wonderful bento meal, we set out for Ofunato. On entering the town from the south, the redevelopment and rebuilding efforts of the town became apparent. The road (Route 45) appeared newly laid and lining it were newly constructed buildings housing a range of businesses from small enterprises to larger chain stores. The overall impression of Ofunato was one of progress.

Preserved tree at Takata-Matsubara

Takata-Matsubara

Despite the speedy recovery of certain areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami, there is still a long way to go before the Tohoku coastline of Japan can be classified as recovered from this momentous event. Some may argue that it never can fully recover from such an earth-shattering occurrence. Hope, however, can be seen in the miraculous survival of a singular tree on the shoreline of Takata-Matsubara. Where once 70,000 pine trees stood along a 2 km stretch of beach, one tree was left standing after the 2011 tsunami. This ‘miracle pine’ has captured the hearts of the Japanese people and it is now being preserved as an enduring symbol that hope is not lost and life can be protected.

Throughout our enlightening week in Japan, lots of things were learnt, many sights were seen and much rice was eaten. We all came away with a far greater appreciation of what challenges Japan, and indeed the world, are facing relating to our vulnerability to natural disasters. In addition to this deeper understanding however, Melodie and I also learnt that our transferable skills extend to the operation of an entirely Japanese Sat Nav; the personal achievement of our successful navigation around the coast and arrival back at the car hire shop a mere 10 minutes before the drop off time was, we felt, quite a triumph!

We would like to thank, once again, the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for funding the expedition; their support is gratefully acknowledged.