By the Book: Restoration & Recovery in Tohoku

Karl Johnson's picture
Posted by Karl Johnson on
Fri, 05/31/2013

A lot of what we've been discussing on the Students Rebuild Japan blog this year lies somewhere between Recovery and Restoration of the Tohoku area. This month the City of Ishinomaki published the latest reports and plans for the region - spanning all the way to Year H32, and well into the third phase of post-disaster, Reconstruction.

Last week Hiromi and I sat down and leafed through about 70 pages of charts, numbers, maps and diagrams, big ideas, and bullet points, basking in Unfiltered Information. Well, at least I was excited. Excited to see Ishinomaki City's take on reconstruction as compared to the human-scale work I was more familiar with.

Resources discussed (in Japanese)

The current status of the reconstruction in Ishinomaki, issued by the City of Ishinomaki, May 2013
The reconstruction plans for infractructures in Ishinomaki, issued by the City of Ishinomaki, February 2013
The reconstruction plans and schedule, issued by the Reconstruction Department of the City of Ishinomaki, May 2013
The reconstruction plans and schedule, issued by the Industry Department of the City of Ishinomaki, February 2013

Here's how the reports boil down –

I. Emperor Times
II. Divisions of Labor
III. Debris Processing - how're they doing on that?
IV. Radiation
V. Upgrades - literally
VI. Spuring new economies - two birds with one stone
VII. Housing - public and relocation
VIII. City sections (Sea walls)
IX. Ganbarou!



I. Emperor Times

Looking at the general reconstruction timeline, you get a sense quickly there's still a few years left in the process. But you can't find a single year in these documents.

The years are there, but disguised. "Most public documents still use Heisei's," Hiromi notes. Meaning they're written in a traditional Japanese system–corresponding to the reigning emperor. Emperor Heisei has been in rule (mostly symbolically, like in Britain) since 1988 (abbreviated "H1"). He succeeded his father, Hirohito, posthumously renamed Showa, so preceding Heisei 1 was Showa 64 or (roughly) 1987.

Throughout these documents we see the timeline break down into three phases. H23-H25 (2011-2013) is Recovery; this cleanup period now coming to a close. H25-H29 is Restoration, where folks find new, permanent housing; businesses are reestablished; roads and other things get back into operation. After that period is Reconstruction, from H30 to H32 (2020). Here the most permanent changes solidify, hopefully making coastal towns and habits more prepared for future tsunamis.

II. Divisions of Labor

The government is committing a lot of money to essential services in Japan–opposed to what we're working on–services not seen as essential (though we have plenty reason to believe otherwise). How much do essential services actually cost? This next charts gives us an idea.
That top total counts recovery costs. 約4,826億円 translates to "about 4,826 hundred million yen." About $48 billion.

Blue takes over half that amount - debris removal. Red for sewage, followed by the fishing port (green) and infrastructure - then schools (teal), the fish market, farms and sports facilities. (Remember that Ishinomaki is a pretty big area, going all the way North past Kitakami, and across most of the Oshika peninsula, including Maeami and the Boppora bento ladies.)

The second total estimates "reconstruction" costs - the third and final phase of post-tsunami rebuilding.

III. Debris Processing - how're they doing on that?

What started this whole conversation was my wondering how the debris processing was going. And Hiromi called up all this info. Well - we know more now. (I warned you this would be technical.)

So the left column lists the coastal regions Iwate (north), Fukushima (south, power plant), Miyagi. The last green row is a regional Total and the yellow is Ishinomaki alone. The graph describes the number of tons of debris processed versus remaining (measured in 万 t, or 10,000 ton, units) - so most places are really getting there. Ishinomaki's trailing a bit, just over 3/4 done. To be fair, they're working through the most debris.

IV. Radiation

With the tsunami came damage to the Fukushima power plant, and crews have since been analyzing debris and food alike for contamination. All the readings are coming up OK.

V. Upgrades - literally

Ishinomaki has great designs to rebuild. To get you oriented, the Ishinomaki River, and Mangattan, are to the far right. On the left is the huge shipping port and fish market. The hill Shogo and I stood on is kind of behind that blue box, so at its foot is the blue-tarped processing zone.

Restoring the city will include a lot of raising the level of ground, rebuilding quays and wharves, as well as the harbor road. They'll also need to put up sea walls and dredge the channel for debris and newly-introduced setiment still there from 2011.

VI. Spurring new economies - two birds, one (rolling) stone 

The "Employment and Economy" section lays out different projects that each city is working on: from eco communities (building walkable downtowns) to enticing new in technology businesses and beefing up fisheries, to using renewable energy (especially baiomasu - biomass), to creating a better, more self-reliant food supply system...the gist is bringing new ideas and new technology to build better.

(You may recall that the Tohoku region was economically depressed before the tsunami - they were losing young people to more exciting places, and some of their industry had fallen behind foreign competitors.)

We've seen similar ambitious makeover plans released in Haiti, and feel here, as well as there, planners are taking a disaster as an opportunity to rebuild smarter and proposing sustainable and economy-promoting measures.

VII. Housing - public housing and relocation

One major difference from Haiti is that Japanese government can afford to offer new housing for its people - a "public option," if you will. These houses are for people who want help getting resettled - tracking down all the info and resources to manage building your own house isn't for everyone (though our team at MakiBiz is making that process easier).

The government is not only building new public housing, they're buying out houses to either rent or sell again, from people who don't want to move back. Lots of houses are vacant - it's cheaper than building from scratch, and can supplement the demand.

While housebuilding is still down the line a ways, the government is hard at work leveling sites for housing on higher ground, like what all those dump trucks were doing driving past the We Are One center.

Moving to higher ground is a serious matter - however counterintuitive it is for coastal (fishing) communities. Ishinomaki cannot stress enough the necessity for entire villages to move their residences away from the ocean, and leave the seaside for the fishing industry, warehouses, work.
Basic town drawing

Ishinomaki has been holding community meetings to explain all the logistics, the timeline, benefits, disadvantages, and costs of relocation. Quite a few households are moving in Ishinomaki, but the progress chart reported shows a lot still has to happen. (Again, site building first, then houses can start construction.)
Get up!
The city's also passing out a handout, and a news clipping. All around the coast around here there are plaques marking historic tsunami levels. One city actually heeded these memorials. The article points out that none of their houses got affected by the tsunami. You have to learn from the disaster and try not to make the same mistakes again. Or, a third time.

VIII. City sections (Sea walls)

What else is moving on up: seawalls. Like em or not, these are the recommendations made to prevent further damage from future tsunamis. And each city should have a series of them.
Seacity section
This "typical" seaside section shows updated concepts of city planning. From left to right:

  • Seawalls: outer wall, 3.5 meters high; inner wall, 7.2 meters high. Lack of beach access/views aside, these would be fine, unless you get a 10 meter tsunami, or a 20 meter one like in 2011 - at which point the walls now keep the water from receding and creating a nice lagoon out of your industrial zone. (Call us critical.)
  • Commercial/Industrial Zone. No housing.
  • A raised road - more protection.
  • Residential with towers - a popular idea to combine, creating evacuation centers.
  • More residential, but here including the schools and hospitals, build farthest from the ocean.

IX. Ganbarou!

Ishi Pyon gets tne last word - and that word...doesn't precisely translate to English. But expresses the feeling of "Okay, let's go!" or "Keep up the good work!" Ganbarou, Ishinomaki!
Ishi Pyon with words of encouragement