How one Japanese village defied the tsunami

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  • 0

    spudman

    Thank you Tomoko Hasada, great article.

    “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”

    Words to be put in Fudai's crest I think.

  • 0

    Tamarama

    Agreed, as unsightly as that thing appears to be, at least the people of Fudai are still around to look at it. Nice story.

  • 0

    Papigiulio

    Nice to hear some positive news from that area.

  • 0

    DenTok2009

    I read about this village a few days ago on Yahoo.

    Thank goodness the mayor stood firm against opposition and didn't compromise or scrap the project.

  • 0

    wanderlust

    An example of the Japanese concrete coastline, while it saved the village, it just doesn't get much uglier than this. Looks like they'll soon be proposing a 20m concrete wall around the whole of Japan, to keep the tsunamis out.

  • 0

    sengoku38

    Too bad Wamura didn't work for TEPCO.

    At the same time, you have to learn to live with nature, not just dominate by building huge concrete walls everywhere.

  • 0

    WilliB

    I wonder if a better solution than these giant concrete walls would be to limit construction in low areas and mandate that the construction there is is concrete. That would drastically cut down on the rubble that caused all the damage and mostly consists of wood from wrecked houses.

  • 0

    Serrano

    That was 3.56 billion yen well spent.

  • 0

    Fadamor

    Just looked at the floodgate on Google Earth. Pretty impressive. On the seaward-side, there's just sand and debris, but on the town's side, the vegetation goes right up to the floodgates.

  • 0

    KnowBetter

    WilliB - when was the last time you had a look at the coastline of Japan? Do you have any clue what your uneducated suggestion would do to over 60% of the the Japanese population?! First by your suggestion Tokyo should be moved. Take a look at most of Tokyo and you'll see that it's all in a low lying area that would be underwater if that same big tsunami hit it today. Most of Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, Yokohama, Chiba, etc., etc., etc., is in the same boat so to speak.

  • 0

    Fadamor

    If that small floodgate cost over 3 billion yen back in the 80's, to do the same for the Tokyo area would take all the money in the world. As Knowbetter stated, the entire region is almost at sea level. A seawall with interspersed floodgates would have to run for hundreds of kilometers.

  • 0

    BurakuminDes

    Wise man. They should build a huge statue of him in the town's central square. He knew that these events are not uncommon in this part of Japan.

  • 0

    nandakandamanda

    London needs to build a new Thames Barrier.

    The spirit of this article could carry such a project through, even if only one person in the right place were to have such a conviction.

  • 0

    ZENJI

    what is the Japanese equaliviant to a English Knighthood. This is what this man should receive

  • 0

    nandakandamanda

    ZENJI "What is the Japanese equivalent to an English Knighthood?"

    A Samuraihood?

  • 0

    KnowBetter

    nandakandamanda - "A Samuraihood"

    hahaha!

    I think they call it a helmet, no? :P

  • 0

    Tahoochi

    Great story. Very inspiring.

  • 0

    WilliB

    knowbetter:

    " when was the last time you had a look at the coastline of Japan? Do you have any clue what your uneducated suggestion would do to over 60% of the the Japanese population?! "

    Well, and a 20 m concrete wall around all of Japan would be less intrusive?! I suggested there are less megalomanic options that these giant walls.

  • 0

    bicultural

    while it saved the village, it just doesn't get much uglier than this

    So you would rather enjoy the natural coastline and then die in the next tsunami?

  • 0

    Mizuame

    A cheaper alternative to giant sea walls would be building tsunami escape platforms, say made of steel and 35 meters high with a spiral staircase, every 200 meters or so.

  • 0

    jason6

    wanderlust at 08:55 AM JST - 16th May An example of the Japanese concrete coastline, while it saved the village, it just doesn't get much uglier than this. Looks like they'll soon be proposing a 20m concrete wall around the whole of Japan, to keep the tsunamis out.

    sengoku38 at 09:34 AM JST - 16th May At the same time, you have to learn to live with nature, not just dominate by building huge concrete walls everywhere.

    One gets the feeling that these people are the kind who don't wear seatbelts because it makes them uncomfortable.

  • 0

    wanderlust

    @jason6 - big difference between wearing a seatbelt, and covering the coastline with millions of tons of concrete. Or perhaps you are happy to look out of the window on to solid grey concrete? Imagine Matsushima covered in concrete walls, or Itsukushima, or any of the other scenic Japanese coastline reduced to a dull grey line on the horizon...

    Just build your houses, schools, shops, and infrastructure, 20~25 metres up the hill, and leave a minimal port area that can easily be re-built. They've done it for golf/ country clubs and resorts, why not do it for towns and villages?

  • 0

    Noripinhead

    I guess the mayor valued lives above money. The tsunami of 2011 proved that the words of his farewell address were right. That the system worked as it was designed is a testament to the engineers who built it.

  • 0

    viewpoint

    I like swimming at the beach, walking up white concrete steps to showers, walking on concrete streets to a store to buy ice cream and onigiri, sitting in my car with the air conditioner on listening to my favorite music, driving back home thinking “They should make the highways bigger and wider so it would be faster.” Then when I get home I water my plants and drink some nice coffee in my solid concrete condo. I also like to go hiking and often think they should pave concrete steps all the way up the mountain, with wide paved resting places along the way for taking pictures and eating. In Japan, I like to go bicycling around the city, and back home I like to mountain bike in the woods. I usually don’t have a problem with concrete and nature, or if one happens to dominate the other at the location. (People often visit walled in cities, castles, the Great Wall of China; relating aged with remarkable.)

  • 0

    Foxie

    Very good points there from viewpoint. The Great Wall of China is really beautiful and why shouldn't Japan have a Great Wall? Concrete doesn't have to be dull and grey.

  • 0

    WilliB

    Foxie:

    So, how high do you want to build this monstrosity? Name a number, any number, and I´ll tell you can imagine a tsunami that is higher than that.

  • 0

    WilliB

    In the event, if you look at the village in Google Earth, you can see why a huge wall makes sense for this particular village. It is in a narrow inlet, flanked by high hills, and the wall needed only to be short to protect a large area.

    To duplicate this on the scale of the Great Wall of China would be insane.

  • 0

    Piglet

    It is illegal to build anything within 200 meters from the coast on the French Atlantic coast except some urban areas. Maybe a similar thing could be implemented in some areas in Japan? Building huge tsunami walls is not the best solution in my opinion as it would require massive investment to cover the whole of the Pacific coast while destroying the environment and giving a false sense of security (unless the whole coast is covered with walls as high as in the above example).

    Instead of wasting more billions in these walls, I would :

    Create sustainable and modern cities slightly more inland, with proper urban planning and consideration for modern construction techniques (insulation, underground electric cables, security, etc...).

    Provide incentives for business to establish in the area. What about creating special economic zones (like in China: Shenzhen Zhuhai, etc...) with no red tape, no taxes, and full business freedom.

  • 0

    Zenny11

    Piglet.

    A big tsunami will reach inland for as much as a few kilometres as happened on 3/11. Check the acts.

  • 0

    Zenny11

    facts.

  • 0

    WilliB

    Zenny11:

    " A big tsunami will reach inland for as much as a few kilometres as happened on 3/11. "

    That obviously depends on the elevation of the land. Piglet suggested to build new settlements on higher ground... again, obviously.

  • 0

    Zenny11

    WilliB.

    That all depends on what is available and how much elevated land is available close to the coast, aka cliffs, etc. River-deltas, etc will get swamped and those are preferred residential areas.

    Piglets example/argument was a poor one at that as there are no absolutes.

  • 0

    oikawa

    Like Zenny says it is simply impossible to build towns any further inland in a lot of the places that were swamped by the tsunami. They were sandwiched between the sea and the mountains. There was literally no space between them apart from the areas that were built on and were destroyed. Some people were killed becasue they couldn't even climb the mountains to escape as they were so steep.

  • 0

    WilliB

    oikawa:

    Well, and like others say, it is simply impossible to surround all of Japan with a gigantic wall. What is up with this weird obsession with concrete here, anyway? Bury hot reactors in concrete, now bury the entire coast in concrete.... LOL

  • 0

    Fadamor

    That's another nice thing I like about Google Earth. When you zoom way in and tilt the camera up you get a 3D representation of the terrain. Things like valleys and mountians and how they relate to the cities and residential areas becomes very clear. If you look at Fudai from the ocean like this, the two hills that bracket the floodgates are prominent. Move inland and it becomes obvious the houses were only in the lowlands and not on the hillsides.

  • 0

    oikawa

    I didn't say anything about concrete walls. I said you can't just "build slightly more inland".

  • 0

    Kabukilover

    Japan Today, thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you for publishing this article. Don't know if my reference in my posting about the "Government Red Tape..." article inspired you and it makes no difference. This is a great article by a young journalist worth watching (she has degrees from Northwestern and Waseda, if your interested).

    The late Mayor Kotaku Wamura is a major Japanese hero. I only wish that Kurosawa was still alive to make movie about him.

  • 0

    Klein2

    3.56 billion yen invested in 1972 at 5% would be 26.20 billion in 40 years. At 7% it would be 58 billion.

    So let's see what this genius did. Rather than just making a law 40 years ago saying that all new construction should be in the hills rather than in the valley, he takes government funds and makes a wall and a gate over a period of 12 years. I guess he had a lot of money lying around because he could have invested it and had somewhere between 26 and 58 billion yen for his town today.

    580 million dollars.

    200 thousand dollars for every man woman and child who lives there now. You have a family of five? You would be an instant millionaire if it weren't for this guy squandering public funds.

    So instead of building an early warning system and discouraging people from building in harm's way, he erects this boondoggle and takes this wealth from his community. And he is a hero? A genius?

    He could have just said, "Hey everybody. Take this money and go build a house someplace else. Here. Free money." And he could have done greater good for everyone. And it would have been a great deed even WITHOUT a tsunami! He could have built a huge concrete statue of a buddha like Sendai did, with enough space inside for thousands of people, and still could have had a few hundred million to play with.

    It is a great article. It shows that spending the treasure of a nation to prepare for disasters that will probably not happen within one's lifetime is foolish. Better policy to guide growth is better than tilting at windmills.

  • 0

    ca1ic0cat

    Tepco's plan was, unfortunatley, flawed. This mayor may not have had a vision that we all agree with, but he had a vision. And it worked. I guess I'm not sure why everybody wants to argue with success.

  • 0

    justodnjpn

    hindsight is usually pretty clear. a few more meters and he's a fool, a few less meters and the guy responsible for the 2km wall in Taro is a hero as well. all these comments about forcing people to build on hills... futile comes to mind but also moronic. what of tokyo and every other metropolitan area in Japan? The reason people live on the coast is that it is flat (or they made it that way), and hey... they like it! I'm pretty sure that after the previous tsunamis mentioned in 1933 and 18xx people weren't blaming the gov't. lets face it, most of these posts rely on the gov't doing something. free money? building more 'stuff'? how about tell people it's a bad idea and move on. let them make their choice.

  • 0

    jeffrey

    Yes. It's wonderful that it saved this one city. But it's obviously not financially possible to replicated this for pretty much any place else you care to name on the coast of Japan.

    As others have pointed out, too much of Japan is built on tidal estuary or in river deltas. Many of the small towns that were destroyed should simply be abandoned as they will suffer the same fate at some future date as the country can't afford (nor would it even be a wise expenditure if it could) to build similar seawalls for every dying fishing village. Most if not all the towns that suffered the most severe damage have been in decline for decades.

    About the only place I could see doing more is off the coast of where the airport is at Sendai as well as (not so) New Kansai and CentAir (Chubu) Airports. On islands, both would be completely destroyed by a tsunami just half the size of that that hit Tohoku.

  • 0

    YuriOtani

    Ah Jeffrey, where are the people suppose to live? Who will pay to relocate them? We just can not abandoned the coast of Japan because their may be a tsunami.

  • 0

    jeffrey

    YuriOtani at 04:29 AM JST - 17th May Ah Jeffrey, where are the people suppose to live?

    If they insist on staying in the area, then someplace on much higher ground.

    We're having a similar problem, as we do every year some place in the States, with people living in flood plains near the Mississippi and its tributaries. More peoples houses are under water and have been destroy by the flooding than all the destruction wrought in all these small towns on the Japanese coast. In some place, the Mississippi is now 80 miles (128km) wide - tens of thousands of homes and hundreds of thousands of acres of crops destroyed.

    Who will pay to relocate them?

    Presumably the same people who will pay them to rebuild the same houses in the tsunami zone - the national government. If not, they are out of luck with funding for either choice.

    We just can not abandoned the coast of Japan because their may be a tsunami.

    How can you be abandoning something that no longer exists? If these towns insist on being rebuilt, then they need to locate to higher ground.

    Remember, one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again though it's already been proven not to work. Some of the villages on the Tohoku coast have been destroyed twice now in less than 100 years.

  • 0

    YuriOtani

    jeffery, there is no place that is 100 percent "safe", the people live there to fish. Where will these people go? What would they do for a living. Your answer is an easy one to say but impossible to do.

  • 0

    bdiego

    In the other towns' defense, many many villages had these exact same walls and the tsunami went right over them. This village was simply a lucky exception.

  • 0

    bdiego

    In fact, 15.5 meters is a lot shorter than some of the walls the tsunami went over. There's a lot of videos of this even on youtube.

  • 0

    bdiego

    For once I actually agree with Klein. He answers Yuri's question of "who will pay" very well. They did pay - $200,000 per person (or $1 million per family) to build this wall. So yes there is a huge ocean of money to relocated people that was instead diverted to building this wall. There's your answer.

  • 0

    Fadamor

    Before everyone starts quoting Klein2's figures, first find out how many people lived there back then, THEN divide the cost up. I doubt the population has been stagnant for 40 years.

  • 0

    Piglet

    For once I also agree with Klein2. If you have ever been to Tohoku, you will notice that there are still a lot of available space in relatively flat areas further from the coast. If rebuilt, the cities should be moved inland, while the coast would be preserved. Some ports could be preserved for the fishermen, but new housing and commercial districts would be relocated inland (from a few hundred meters to a few kilometers, depending on the topography).

    As I wrote above, France already banned new construction on the Atlantic coast, and it doesn't seem that the coastal areas are suffering that much economically from this law.

  • 0

    luckygohappy

    I am more surprised with his ability to lead the blind than his ability to see the future. If I had seen the disaster he did, I would just move away from the coast and not bother trying to convince those fools to do what is necessary.

    I tip my hat to him for his drive and patience. As for seeing the future, there is a reason I do not live in Tokyo or along the coasts of Japan. One would think any random fool could see the danger.

  • 0

    TSRnow

    I don't see the point in the people of this particular village rebuilding inland. These people are fishermen or otherwise related to the ocean, so they need to be close to it.

    This man was very intelligent in suggesting that they save their homes (and lives) but allowing fishermen to be just fishermen. Which is a risk most of these people were and still are willing to take. As a result, even if their business is in ruins, almost all of the people are accounted for (except for the one with the wrong choice) so they can live to rebuild.

  • 0

    oikawa

    What on earth is this about "investing the money"!! They didn't know when the tsunami was going to hit for crying out loud! It had to be built as soon as possible. They couldn't sit around in 1971 and say "well in 2011 you know we are going to be hit by a massive tsunami so let's consider how the benefits of being alive weigh up with having some good portfolios"

    And even if they had invested in they would now be err, dead! In addition to which they have effectively got that 200,000 dollars anyway by still having their houses and businesses. Money is not about hoarding, intrinsically it is worthless, it is about spending.

  • 0

    jeffydiver

    I like that Idea, break the tsunami's strength. We need more of those.

  • 0

    jeffrey

    Fadamor at 11:18 AM JST - 17th May Before everyone starts quoting Klein2's figures, first find out how many people lived there back then, THEN divide the cost up. I doubt the population has been stagnant for 40 years.

    The population or rural and coast Tohoku probably peaked in the '80s and has been in decline as with all of rural and coastal Japan. Japan's urban concentration continues apace.

    TSRnow at 05:19 PM JST - 17th May I don't see the point in the people of this particular village rebuilding inland. These people are fishermen or otherwise related to the ocean, so they need to be close to it.

    Being "close to it" (the ocean) doesn't mean living a few feet above sea level or necessarily within walking distance to the port and your boat. Housing could/should be relocated to the hilltops and hillsides if they insist on rebuilding these towns and villages.

    Incidentally, as with Japanese agriculture, the Japanese fishing industry is equally inefficient but actually has too many fishermen, most 55-years old plus. As they did in Alaska years ago to cut down on the numbers, the Japanese government could buy boats and licenses back from a good number of these men who have earned their retirements whether they want it or not. A better investment than agricultural subsidies, which only perpetuate the inefficiencies.

  • 0

    ihavegreatlegs

    Build on high ground, but build huge sky scrapers, and that will take care of where to put people. Think out of the box kids!

  • 0

    illsayit

    yeah think out of the box-like replacing those fisherman in an equally low-populated coastline DownUnder, where they could use their fishing licenses to shove deep up the Australian govts tight...fishing laws.

  • 0

    AnnieJames

    The Tsunami falls in japan It is the worst thing which happened in the country. This Tsunami effects almost all well beings of that country and let us pray that this will not happened anywhere....Annie

  • 0

    TSRnow

    jeffrey, as you can see in your quote of my comment, I didn't really think about how to rebuild in other places. I was merely saying that this man did a very good job. That is of dividing "work" and "home". Fishermen willingly live close to the ocean. This village succeeded in putting the homes in a safe place, but as close to "work" as possible by building this massive wall to protect them.

    As for other places, I don't know if there are any single solution. Rebuilding on higher ground sounds reasonable enough, but finding land seems difficult hearing new about building temporary housings. I hope they find a solution soon.

  • 0

    WilliB

    As Klein2 pointed out, for the cost of this concrete monstrocity, the entire village could have been relocated, and then some.

    You can argue for it all you want, but to say it makes economic sense is simply not true.

  • 0

    AdamB

    WilliB,

    "As Klein2 pointed out, for the cost of this concrete monstrocity, the entire village could have been relocated, and then some." Yeah Klein2 is a genious, did he factor into account that to build housing or for that matter a whole town in the hills costs a lot more than to build it on flat ground. Did he also mention that this is a fishing village so it needs to be near the water. Who cares how much it cost, how much of the cost savings you guys are advocating would have been lost with extra costs for building houses on hills, and most importantly how much is a human life worth. Because unlike other villages in the are 1 person is missing. Everyone was saved except for 1 that is money well spent

  • 0

    goddog

    I say go with sky scrapers. Hong Kong has done it for a very very long time, and they used to get wiped out by taifu surges which are just like tsunami. It can be done. Build on high ground, do not cut costs in cement and iron bars, and go for it.

  • 0

    Piglet

    @AdamB

    As Klein2 showed above, for the same cost, they could have relocated the town. Fishermen need to have access to the sea, they don't need to live NEXT to the sea. A few hundred meters/ up to a few kilometers is good enough!

    Not all the Pacific coast is hilly. In some areas, there are also flat areas behind hills. Saying that it is impossible to build further away from the coast is a non-sense. Also, you have to remember that the area is quite poor compared to Tokyo, and many houses were not built correctly (no strong foundations, light structure). The concrete buildings were not washed away by the tsunami.

  • 0

    Piglet

    Also, as goddog noticed with the HK example, it is absolutely possible to build cities on hills.

  • 0

    oikawa

    I don't know why some people are so against this. It's one option of many and seeing as it saved countless lives don't bother arguing and saying there could have been any option better.

  • 0

    jakesmum

    Amongst all the grim stories to emerge from the tsunami, here is an uplifting story of lives saved not lost, of a man with a prescient vision rather than tunnel vision, of a leader amongst bureaucratic cogs. Leave it to the typical JT forum mudslingers to take pure gold and spin it into crap.

    Suspending reality for a moment, leaving aside the faulty logic made by Klein2 in his every-family-of-five-could-have-been-a-millionaire erroneous argument, forgetting the fact that our governmental leaders are not elected to create and manage private bank accounts for us (fund manager anyone?), supposing this actually had happened in the 1970s as Klein2 imagines, could we not hypothetize that Wamura might actually have lost the money in question in the bursting of economic bubble in late 1980s/early 90s?

    Wamura was a man with a strength of vision who overcame adversity and opposition to actually save people from beyond his grave. Klein2 on the other hand is an armchair critic suffering from pathlogical contrariness to the degree that he actually calls this tsunami wall a boondoggle. Boondoggle it might have been had it failed - the fact that it didn't intrisically proves its worthiness.

  • 0

    jeffrey

    Several people who have posted here seem to think that there is no cost analysis ever applied to saving or safeguarding human life.

    First, this one village had a unique shoreline profile that did as much to protect it as did the seawall. Second, the seawall was not built with local funds, but money from the central government. Next, Japan has been in a recession with fitful spurts of low productivity growth for about 20 years now. The central government is essentially broke and the general populace hostile to increased taxes. There is no money available (or manpower for that matter) to undertake the scientifically questionable task of rebuilding many of these cities, as they were, behind massive seawalls.

    Fisherman can still be fisherman even if they don't live cheek by jowl with the port. The coastal plains, often reclaimed land, have been so heavily salted and polluted with industrial chemicals that they won't, shouldn't be put back into agricultural production anytime soon.

    Either you rebuild the towns and villages that can be 10-20 meters above sea level (remember, the entire coastal area of Tohoku sunk about a meter after the quake) or take the chance of having the area destroyed again in the same fashion. The cost of relocating these settlements to higher ground would be much, much smaller than rebuilding entirely on the old town sites while spending 10-15 years building 8th Wonder of the World seawalls for each and every town on the coast of Tohoku.

  • 0

    Skywards

    Will look for the late mayor's book. He was wise to recall previous devastation and use it to inspire the wall. Did the town figure out why the side parts jammed, thereby necessitating a fireman to manually operate them? Need to fix that bit.

  • 0

    WilliB

    jeffrey:

    " the seawall was not built with local funds, but money from the central government. "

    Oh I see. So when other taxpayers pay for it, it is free right? Open the barn gates for pork barrel projects of all sort.... it comes out of general tax money, so no problem.

    Sorry, but that argument really does not wash.

  • 0

    TSRnow

    jeffery, you make it sound so easy. I'm not opposing you know, as I mentioned in my previous post. Just applauding this man. But you make it sound so so easy...

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