Satellite image of Higashi-Matsushima’s beachfront areas, which were devastated in 2011’s tsunami.
By David Tereshchuk*
October 22, 2012—More than 16,000 lives were lost, and many more livelihoods destroyed as well, in Japan’s triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in March 2011.
Nearly two years later, rebuilding those livelihoods is presenting enormous challenges to the Japanese people—and few are more daunting than that of Higashi-Matsushima, in the north-east of the country’s main island, Honshu.
Facing the ocean, the city’s Miyato District was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, and it remains at grave risk of isolation even today. Without outside support, revitalization of the community and economy is simply not possible.
Working through JEDRO, the National Council of Churches’ disaster response office, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is helping to rebuild the area’s main business, which focuses on a once-popular tourist beach. Perhaps ironically, many citizens earned their livelihoods from the attractions by the sea around Tsuki-Hama Beach, so badly damaged by the sea itself when it surged ashore there, killing over a thousand people.
The families putting their lives together again have made it clear that their common wish is to rebuild their community and welcome visitors once again. The beach area was known for its vacation amenities, including many ryokan, traditional-style Japanese inns that originated as far back as the seventeenth century to serve travelers along Japan's highways.
A local partner, the city-based agency Higashi-Matsushima NEXT, is homing in on specific revitalization efforts. These include devising and setting up child-friendly events, encouraging the start-up of new food and beverage shops and a store selling aquatic products, and developing local networking and job-creation ventures.
The agency also is gathering together a group of residents and business people to form an implementation committee, which calls itself Genki wo Dasō (“Let’s be Sprightly”). Their focus is to try out new forms of marine leisure and fishing.
It is hoped that Tsuki-Hama will be the first tourism beach to re-open in this disaster region since the catastrophe happened, and will prove to be a beacon of hope for survivors, through its job creation and the restoration of full-fledged community life.
“It is great that this revitalization can be based on local tourism and enjoyment of the beachfront”, said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR’s associate general secretary for international development.
“That area is well known for its picturesque beaches, and this will really re-build the sense of community, along with the livelihoods of business-owners who provide those beachfront activities,” Crutchfield said.
Your gift to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450, will help severely challenged communities like those in Japan rebuild after disaster.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to umcor.org.