Whole communities have been uprooted. Homes, businesses, friends and family have gone. Now, some areas have been cleared. The only new buildings to be constructed are incinerator plants to get rid of the waste. Vast swathes of land remain devastated and empty. You can see where the tsunami washed in because grass remains flattened and trees have succumbed to the salt water.
Yet positive signs are emerging and the way the Japanese people have coped with the disaster is remarkable. The next day we drive north and visit the isolated fishing village of Ogatsu. There are signs fishing is resuming, although in many places it is not possible because of nuclear contamination. Only a handful of buildings remain. One is the new ink stone factory, where they make slate tiles and the stones used for traditional Japanese calligraphy. The manager, who survived by climbing onto the former factory roof as the tsunami surged below, commutes for an hour and a half. Workers are determined to stay. One of them is 70-years old, and has been doing the same work for 50 years. He uses his upper body strength for carving. The chisel has left a permanent indentation in his chest.
Back in Sendai, we meet a young architect, Tetsuya Suzuki, who is equally determined to stay. He has designed a new multi-generational home to replace the one destroyed by the tsunami.
Further north in Onegawa we visit a rather special emergency housing project. Internationally renowned architect Shigeru Ban, who also designed Christchurch’s temporary “cardboard cathedral,” has designed it as an alternative to the rather depressing looking container group housing so many disaster victims are living in. It is built of containers, too, but they are stacked to maximize space and look as attractive as possible.
Living spaces are designed to provide as much privacy as possible. Community areas and meeting places are important, so people do not feel isolated. Residents entered a lottery to live here. They are allowed to stay for four years, but that may be extended.