Three years ago this day I was woken up by a text message from a friend.
“Is everyone you know okay?”
Still sleepy, at first I didn’t realize what he was talking about, though the first thing that came into my mind was that maybe it could have something to do with Japan. But what?
Unfortunately, I turned out to be right.
The rest of the day I was glued to my TV and computer watching the destruction of the earthquake, tsunami and then the nuclear disaster, the extent of which only became apparent in the course of the following days.
Having lived in Japan for over 2,5 years, it is a place that’s very close to my heart. And seeing the destruction that occurred that day was devastating. Of course, I cannot imagine what it must have been like for people who lived there and had to run from their houses or office to get away from the rushing water and lost everything.
Just over a year after the tsunami, in May 2012, I briefly visited the area: I wanted to support the local economy by being there as a tourist, because part of this coastline is also a natural park so worth a visit for that alone. Nevertheless, I also wanted to see what was happening locally in terms of reconstruction. What I hadn’t expected at all, was that people were so open about their experiences.
Out of nowhere, a restaurant owner or a boatsman would start talking to me about what it was like that March 11th in 2011. These are stories I won’t forget.
This is also why it is so good to be able to see a little bit of the work that continues in this part of Tohoku, Japan. Many grass roots organisations and local governments in the region have embraced, mostly, Facebook as a way to let people see what they are working on.
It is also a way of showing potential tourists that yes, there is a lot to see and do in this part of the Japan, and it it so much worth the visit. I wish travel websites, guidebooks, travel shows – anyone – would share the amazing travel potential of Tohoku more (unlike Lonely Planet, which scrapped this whole part of the country out of its guide published after the tsunami).
Many of these Facebook-pages are in Japanese, though some are in English as well (or German, even!). Have a look at these pages to get an idea of what initiatives are working locally:
- Tohoku Planning Forum: a platform facilitating collaboration among Japanese and international designers, architects and planners contributing to the long-term revitalisation of Japan’s tsunami-affected Tohoku region.
- Rikuzen Takata town: a page run by the city of Rikuzen Takata, one of the most heavily hit towns along the coast, sharing events, news, pictures and other interesting bits of information about the city (in Japanese & English)
- It’s Not Just Mud: INJM is a grass-roots organization which moved into Ishinomaki quickly after the tsunami happened to help locals with clearing debri and slowly start building again. Run by volunteers, they’ve expanded operations to other towns – and even recently to the Philippines after the destructive Typhoon late 2013.
- DJSF Sanriku Fukkou: a German-Japanese collaboration to support the reconstruction of the Sanriku-region along the coast.
Through these pages there are many many more FB-pages you can click through to from various towns and initiatives.