Covering The 3/11 Disaster

Five years since the Great East Japan earthquake in Tohoku, the grape media team went to Iwate Prefecture, where the coastal side suffered devastating damage from the massive earthquake and tsunami.

One of the first places we visited was the city of Rikuzentakata, located in the far southeast corner of Iwate. In the aftermath of the 3/11 disaster, Rikuzentakata was reported to have been “wiped off the map,” the earthquake and tsunami leaving nothing but barren land filled with mountains of destructed homes, infrastructure, enormous ships, and debris.


The City Of Rikuzentakata

Driving down the narrow, 2-way highway, what welcomed us was an enormous expanse of flat land. Besides the buildings sporadically dotting the sides of the streets, surrounding us was mostly construction sites and large mounds of dirt. The extensive construction had a way of making us believe that recovery was proceeding as smoothly as it possibly could, but the lack of luster in the city made us wonder how much recovery was actually being accomplished.

According to Sankei News, there were 24,246 people living in Rikuzentakata when the earthquake struck. The tsunami that came just after swallowed the city whole, taking the lives of 1,759 people, many of whose bodies have still not been found to this day. The tsunami devoured half of the homes that had previously existed in the city, and left almost nothing behind.

The current state of Rikuzentakata flashed past us through the car windows, as we silently tried to piece together what the scenery might have looked like 5 years ago, before it had been mercilessly obliterated by the sea.

Rikuzentakata Kesen Junior High School


But amidst the barren land were buildings here and there, though with a closer look we found that many of them were buildings that had somehow managed to stay standing through the disaster. They revealed rusted facades, broken windows and pillars, mounds of debris filling the interior, and signs indicating how high the water reached when the tsunami hit.

Of these buildings, one was what remained of Rikuzentakata Kesen Junior High School.

Every window was shattered or missing, and ceilings were collapsed. A sign fixed at the top of the building indicated that the water had gone up to the third floor of the three-story building, 14.2 meters high.

Nothing that was left of it indicated that it had, in fact, been a middle school, once filled with the laughter of students and the sound of classes being conducted.




On March 11th, 2011, all 86 students and teachers were inside the school gym, practicing songs for the graduation ceremony that was to be held the following week. A huge earthquake struck, and they had barely been able to assess the situation before they saw the signs of an impending tsunami.

Not five minutes passed before they quickly evacuated to a parking lot by the school. But after seeing that the ocean waves had rushed away from the shore almost completely, they decided they had to go higher above ground.




What they saw from their new evacuation spot was an enormous wave wiping out their beloved city, and swallowing whole the very place they had been in just minutes before. However, with their quick instincts and sound judgment, everyone at the school survived the disaster.

The building is currently being preserved as a remnant of the Tohoku disaster.

The Lone Miracle Pine


But buildings were not the only remnants of the earthquake and tsunami. In a place about five minutes from Kesen Junior High School stood a thin, tall pine tree. Known as The Lone Miracle Pine, it has become a symbol of strength, hope, and recovery, and is close in the hearts of the locals and survivors.

The Lone Miracle Pine got its name after the disaster, when locals discovered that it was the sole survivor out of the 70,000 pine trees that had previously been spread out over the area. The area, once known as Takata-matsubara, was an exquisite two-kilometer expanse of green land and was a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty, as well as one of the 100 Landscapes of Japan.


From Kesen Junior High School, we drove for about five minutes before reaching the parking lot near The Lone Miracle Pine, and walked a winding path that led us right in front of it.

Up close, the tree was taller and thinner than I had expected it to be. Though still standing, being submerged in sea water had rendered the tree dead, and measures had been taken in hopes to at least preserve the tree itself. Perhaps it was for this reason that the leaves didn’t blow in the wind, and the trunk and branches were of a black hue.




Behind the tree was a dilapidated building, half of it broken down and utterly destroyed. What appeared to be ventilators were ripped from the outer walls and hung from cables, telling the tale of the intensity with which the tsunami had hit the area.

We later found out that the building had previously been a youth hostel, although it had closed indefinitely in January 2011 and, fortunately, housed no travelers when disaster struck.

The youth hostel, situated between the ocean and the pine tree, is said to have served as a shield, protecting the tree from the pressure of the enormous waves.

The Unyielding Strength Of Rikuzentakata


The remains of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, standing forebodingly throughout the city, all look as though time has stopped around them. Having valiantly survived the disaster, their decrepit appearance still makes it seem as though they have been unable to move on and recover from that fateful day 5 years ago. They still wear the scars of the tsunami, continuing to exist alone without all that had been a part of the city before the ocean swallowed it whole.

But while they may look like the lone remnants of a painful memory, they are also the survivors of the disaster. Refusing to surrender to the tsunami, they stand strong and true to this very day. In many ways they reflect the steadfast spirits of the local survivors, the unyielding strength of those who experienced the life-altering event they will remember for the rest of their lives.


By - grape Japan editorial staff.