IWANUMA, Miyagi Prefecture–They prayed for their lost loved ones, reminisced about their agony and despair and thanked the people who came to their rescue. And then, more than 800 survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami started their new lives in a recently completed town built on nearly 20 hectares of what was once farmland.
The town of Tamaura-Nishi was born on July 19 within the city of Iwanuma, four years and four months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami slammed coastal areas of the Tohoku region.
People from six tsunami-devastated communities in Iwanuma relocated to Tamaura-Nishi. It is the first new town with more than 100 households from municipalities affected by the disaster.
The town’s inauguration ceremony was held at a citizens hall on the morning of July 19. It started with a silent prayer for the 181 residents of Iwanuma who were killed in the tsunami.
Miyu Sakurai, 15, a third-year junior high school student, talked about her optimism for the new town in a speech she gave at the ceremony.
“I am very happy because I can study in my own room. I am proud of the fact that Tamaura-Nishi is my hometown,” said Sakurai, who lived in a temporary housing facility for about four years after her house was washed away by the tsunami.
Yoko Saito, 52, also took the stage and talked about her feelings of helplessness when she saw how the tsunami had reduced her previous neighborhood of Hasegama, one of the six communities, to rubble in 2011.
“I was filled with extreme anxiety, thinking, ‘How will I live from now on?’” she recalled.
Saito was also at a loss on whether to join the group relocation to the Tamaura-Nishi district. She eventually decided to relocate there after her eldest daughter, Aya, 26, said, “We should join the relocation because we like Tamaura.”
Their new house was completed in July 2014. Showing a photo of her family taken at that time, Saito said, “This smile is a present from all of you.”
Iwanuma city is considered a forerunner in reconstruction from the 2011 disaster, but building a town from scratch required special coordination.
“It was good that each community had leaders, and that they were quick in making decisions,” said Hiroo Kikuchi, the 62-year-old mayor of Iwanuma.
The Tamaura-Nishi district was chosen as the relocation site in November 2011, eight months after the quake and tsunami.
From June 2012, leaders from the six communities held 28 meetings on what type of town they would create.
The town of Tamaura-Nishi was built on a farmland area measuring 750 meters by 250 meters and about 3 kilometers from the coast. The entire project cost about 19.6 billion yen (about $158 million).
Sales or leases of 158 plots started in December 2013. In addition, 178 completed houses were offered for rent. Actual relocations to the new town began in April 2014.
A total of 833 people from 315 households have moved to the area, accounting for 60 percent of residents from the six communities. The remaining 40 percent, mainly families with young children, have relocated elsewhere.
The name of the town was selected through voting by residents. Junior high school students came up with the names of four parks in Tamaura-Nishi.
A large supermarket was opened in Tamaura-Nishi on July 7 and has since been attracting customers even from areas outside the town.
“Since the disaster, we have been making efforts together and have shared the same thoughts,” said Katsuyoshi Nakagawa, 76, who coordinated the opinions from the six communities. “That has led to the birth of a good town.”
On the afternoon of July 19, residents of the Tamaura-Nishi district unveiled a monument in the new town and expressed gratitude to all people concerned.
At the end of the event, residents performed a mid-summer Bon-odori dance, the first time in five years that the traditional dance festival has been held.
“Today is the starting day of our hometown,” one of the residents said.