三陸復興 | Sanriku Fukkou

Deutsch-Japanisches Synergie Forum (DJSF) Sanriku Fukkou e.V.

三陸復興 | Sanriku Fukkou

Otsuchi, Return of a Perilous Beauty


A March 2015 view of the progress of the incremental landfill operations in centrol Otsuchi that began in 2013 after debris-clearing. To the left is the district of Ando, with its fishing jetty protruding into the harbor; across the Kozuchi River to the right is Nobematsu, now connected by a temporary span that replaced the original bridge and its six-meter high floodgates.
A tsunami-battered town tries to get back on its feet: struggle, conflict, bureaucracy and, yes, hope.


by Charles Pomeroy

Not all has gone smoothly in the town of Otsuchi as it struggles to recover from the tsunami devastation wreaked upon it five years ago. (See my story, “The Perilous Beauty of Otsuchi,” in the April, 2011 edition of No. 1 Shimbun.) For starters, the loss of its mayor, Koki Kato, together with key department heads and the more than 30 experienced staff that made up a quarter of the town’s civil servants meant that there was no one to immediately get to work on a master plan for recovery. It wasn’t until January 2012 that a draft was finally completed, under a new mayor, Yutaka Ikarigawa.

Mayor Ikarigawa was faced with a number of tough issues, from organizing housing for survivors to sorting out land problems for the dead and missing. And over the next several years some progress was made, including a partial revival of the fisheries industry and construction of new residences to replace the temporary structures housing survivors.

But two key projects in the master plan led to discontent, as the long-range view of those who had forged the plan clashed with the more immediate desires of the survivors. One was a plan to raise the ground level in central Otsuchi by 2.5 meters; the other, to build a huge seawall 14.5 meters high.

After months of uncertainty, many displaced townspeople could not wait another six years and departed for other locales.

The plan to raise the ground level, intended as a safeguard against smaller tsunami and future rises in the sea level, will bring it up to the level of the entry road from National Highway 45 and the new town offices, formerly the burned-out elementary school. It is a six-year project, started in 2012 with debris clearing, followed by incremental landfill scheduled through 2016, and finally ending with a year of waiting for it all to settle before rebuilding can begin in 2018. But after months of uncertainty following the tsunami, many displaced townspeople could not wait another six years and departed for other locales.

THE PLAN TO BUILD the huge seawall – favored by Tokyo bureaucrats, but with the responsibility in the hands of the prefecture – has yet to get underway. Strong doubts have been expressed about its usefulness in protecting the town against future, perhaps even larger, tsunami. Critics also say that any concrete structure of this kind will deteriorate and require replacement in 50 years, which will mean another huge outlay of tax money. They prefer an enhanced system of tsunami alerts and evacuation routes, which are already included in the master plan for central Otsuchi.

In particular, opposition was voiced by the fisheries folk in Akahama, which is also home to Tokyo University’s International Coastal Research Center (ICRC). Akahama also has a walkway to Horaijima, an islet known to most Japanese from a popular 1960s NHK puppet program Hyokkori Hyotan-jima that featured a popular theme song. Many of its residents were lost in the 2011 tsunami, opponents said, because the earlier seawall at 6.5 meters had blocked their view of the “drawback” – receding water from the harbor that preceded the onslaught – that would have alerted them to seek higher ground. In their opinion, a seawall 14.5 meters high would just make such future situations even worse.

Opponents had their point made for them with the release in April, 2015, of a documentary by director Haruko Konishi, titled Akahama Rock’n Roll. The film makes a strong case for the more traditional fishery environment rather than a high seawall. Even Akie Abe, the prime minister’s wife, expressed sympathy for the opponents’ cause at a UN Disaster Prevention Conference in Sendai last year, according to newspaper reports.

After losing almost 10 percent of its 15,239 citizens to the tsunami (one of the largest losses among the affected towns), Otsuchi’s population continues to drop. In fact, it had fallen by 23.2 percent by the end of 2015, according to a report in Asahi Shimbun. This is far and away the largest decrease among the coastal communities affected by the tsunami, with the next highest being Rikuzentakata at 15.2 percent. The reasons were various. Some former residents who had evacuated to inland towns just opted not to return to the gutted community. But the biggest hit came from the post-tsunami exodus of younger people looking for work or schooling elsewhere.
Today, Otsuchi has become a town occupied mostly by retirees and transient workers.

Aside from cleanup and landfill work and rebuilding, long-term jobs that can help persuade locals to stay are in short supply to this day. Although the partially recovered fishery industry continues to offer opportunities, these jobs seem to offer little appeal for the younger generation. And though MAST – Otsuchi’s major shopping center that attracted many residents of surrounding communities – reopened in December 2011, its consumer base began eroding after 2013 as a result of increasing competition from shopping centers in nearby towns, especially the Aeon shopping center in nearby Kamaishi.

Driving home the reality of a shrinking population was the merger of three elementary schools in April 2013. Today, Otsuchi has become a town occupied mostly by retirees and transient workers.

TO ENCOURAGE REBUILDING IN Otsuchi, government subsidies totaling ¥5 million are on offer to qualifying families. But no rebuilding can take place in the town center until 2018, and those who want to build in other areas face escalating construction costs. That is assuming, of course, that a construction company can be found, for even local governments are having difficulty in obtaining bids for their projects. Costs have been rising not only from demand in the stricken areas of Sanriku, but also from the general upgrading of the national infrastructure by the Abe administration, a situation further aggravated by the decision to hold the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

These developments have fed growing cynicism among survivors all along the Sanriku coast. Many sense they are being abandoned, or at least having their futures downgraded in favor of other government projects. These feelings have only increased following the decision to hold the Olympics. And when the central government recently announced an end to the intensive five-year phase of Tohoku reconstruction and a reduction in such funds for the next five-year phase from fiscal 2016, this only added to their pessimism.

Despite these negatives, one of our family members, a brother-in-law in his mid-60s who spent most of his adult life in Tokyo, returned to Otsuchi after retiring in 2015. He now works part time to supplement his retirement income while looking for new opportunities in his hometown. So far he has found none.

Many sense they are being abandoned, or at least having their futures downgraded in favor of other government projects.

Still, all is not lost, and perhaps the long-range planning of Ikarigawa’s experts, representing central and prefectural governments as well as academia and knowledgeable locals, will see a new dawning in Otsuchi. But he won’t be in a position to lead it. Difficulties with his master plan’s implementation eventually led to his defeat in the August 2015 election. His victorious opponent, Kozo Hirano, ran on a platform calling for a review of the planned reconstruction projects.

In addition to the slow but ongoing recovery of the fisheries, positive signs include the revival of the old railway line by Sanriku Railways in 2021 and the completion of the new Sanriku coastal expressway in 2022. Both will make Otsuchi more accessible for commerce and tourism as well as much easier to live in, especially for students who had pleaded for a return of the railway to enable commuting to schools in other towns. This should also increase the town’s attraction for families with school-age children.

OUR HOME WAS AMONG the 3,359 in Otsuchi destroyed by the tsunami. My wife Atsuko and I plan to begin rebuilding in 2018 on our small parcel of land at the southern edge of the central district, which will allow us to continue our retirement that began there in 2004. It will again put us within a five-minute walk of the family gravesite at Dainenji, and give us easy access to that mountain’s scenic hiking trail.

Sadly, we will no longer be joined on these hikes by our favorite companion, Atsuko’s elder sister, Noriko, who had lived nearby. She and her husband, Yuji, were both lost to the tsunami. Her remains were not identified until August of 2011 and his were never found. The addition of her ashes to the family gravesite has made our visits for the annual Obon Buddhist observances even more poignant.

Half of our neighbors were also lost to the tsunami and, apparently, none among the surviving families will return. So we will start afresh with new neighbors, but bedrock support from Atsuko’s brother and other relatives as well as friends dating back to her childhood.

The author’s feature on Otsuchi in the April 2011 earthquake special.

And with any luck, some of our favorite local shops will restart their businesses. In particular, I would like to see the reappearance of Akabu Sakaya, which made it a point to keep my favorite gin and vermouth in stock. ❶

Charles Pomeroy retired from journalism 12 years ago. He is the author of Tsunami Reflections—Otsuchi Remembered.


被災地負担、反対相次ぐ 復興相、首長らと会談 復興予算













Fighting to recover from the ocean’s wrath



On April 11, Wataru Takeshita, the minister for reconstruction of the areas most seriously affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, met in Kamaishi with local government representatives to discuss the budget for Iwate Prefecture. After the meeting, the mayor of Kamaishi spoke to the press and said Takeshita told them the central government would continue paying for reconstruction work through next year, but after that he expected the prefecture and municipalities to cover part of the burden themselves.

“Please understand that the money we spend on reconstruction is from taxes levied on people nationwide,” Takeshita reportedly said during the meeting, which was closed to the media.

According to an article in the Asahi Shimbun, the local governments in attendance rejected the minister’s remarks, mainly because he neglected to go into detail about how much of a burden he was talking about and what sorts of things they would be paying for. The mayor of the city of Rikuzentakata seemed offended by the government attitude.

“They must discuss our financial situation and the reconstruction process,” he told an Asahi reporter. “Otherwise, we can’t envision a future for ourselves.”

Rikuzentakata is currently spending ¥30 billion to elevate levees and prepare higher ground for new residential housing, an amount equivalent to 2.7 times its whole annual budget. “And we still have to build schools and a new city hall,” he added.

Takeshita seemed oblivious to the resistance. He told reporters that he and the local governments “came to a common understanding” regarding division of reconstruction costs. A prefectural representative tried to point out that the municipalities weren’t saying “the central government should pay for everything and we pay nothing,” only that there had been no substantive discussion about what would happen after the current reconstruction budget expired in 2016.

As the Asahi presented the story, it read like a classic instance of official condescension, but the situation is more complicated. The report implies that the local governments formed a united front, but as the vice mayor of the town of Otsuchi said, the degree of damage suffered and the amount of reconstruction required differs from one place to another. By treating all the local governments the same way, the agency effectively demonstrates a lack of imagination and coordination, while the media gives the impression that money is the only issue.

Otsuchi, in fact, is the subject of a new documentary by Haruko Konishicalled “Akahama Rock’n Roll.” Akahama is the district closest to the sea and the one that contains the town’s fishing industry. One-10th of Akahama’s residents died in the 2011 tsunami or remain missing. The central subject of the film is the surviving residents’ objections to the central government’s plan to build a 14.5-meter-high seawall along the edge of the community. The rest of the town approved the seawall, or, at least, didn’t object to it.

The budget for construction was set in January 2012, when the town’s residents were still in shock from the disaster and hadn’t had time to think over the plans carefully. Since then, the people of Akahama decided that a better idea would be to move homes in the district to higher ground. The seawall, they contend, causes more problems than it solves. The tsunami, after all, was 22 meters high, so 14.5 meters may not do any good, but in any case, the fishermen of Akahama need to have constant visual contact with the ocean, and not just for the sake of their livelihoods. One reason so many people died in the tsunami was that they didn’t see it coming, since there was already a seawall blocking their line of sight, and that one was only 6.5 meters high.

Akahama is too small to attract the interest of the mass media, but Konishi managed to enlist one powerful supporter: Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. At the U.N. Disaster Prevention Conference in Sendai in March, she raised the matter of the seawall during an awards ceremony, saying that if you have to destroy the environment in order to safeguard a community from the forces of nature, then something is wrong. Since then, the movie and Akahama have been featured in a number of newspaper articles.

Konishi divides her footage between two principals: Tsutomu Abe (no relation to the prime minister), a fisherman who went back to work a few days after the tsunami, even though it killed his father, and Hiromi Kawaguchi, chairman of the Akahama Reconstruction Committee, who spearheads the local resistance to the seawall. This dual narrative approach toggles between the political aspects of the issue and the less concrete cultural ones.

Abe the fisherman represents the community’s soul, a man whose close relationship with the sea is primal. The tsunami was a tragedy, but, as he says over and over, you can’t fight nature.

“As long as our lives are connected to the ocean,” his mother says, “we have to be here.” And what’s the point of being here if you can’t see the water? When your life is dependent on the sea, you make peace with it as best you can.

People, however, are another matter, and it’s Kawaguchi’s job to fight the powers that try to tell him and those he represents what is best for them. Once the bureaucracy has a notion in its head, it’s difficult to change, and his fellow committee members, worn down by the subtle but relentless force of authority, seem willing to compromise, but Kawaguchi isn’t.

“Life comes from the sea,” he says. “And keeping the sea separate from us destroys life.”

If Konishi’s purpose is to show how a community’s desires should not be discounted even if those desires place it at risk, her movie acutely points out how specific needs can’t be summarily dismissed by logic or taken care of by charity.

“I’m not interested in people’s sympathy,” says Abe as he shucks oysters. “I just want to sell my products.”

What Does Recovery Look Like?

The current recovery efforts in Japan following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami draws many parallels to our post-Sandy conditions in the Northeast U.S., and should temper our expectations and help illuminate realities of our road ahead. Do they have the answers we seek?

By Illya Azaroff, AIA
September 26, 2014

Since Superstorm Sandy, many of us have been engaged in recovery one way or another, as an architect, engineer, community leader, or as a person directly affected by the storm. It has been two years of a seemingly endless stream of work, skill-building, and knowledge-sharing since the storm surge hit the Northeast Region of the United States. Whether engaged in actual buildings, study, or debate, we seem to be wrapped up in the broad and deep issues of climate change and associated learning that accompanies our new reality in the Northeast.

One truth we are faced with is that the tendency for today’s culture to move rapidly from one subject to the next, so, too, is our attention span for news. Our collective conscious does not stay focused for long on any one thing. The post-Sandy environment is no different. Many people have already moved on to the next „big thing,“ noting that our problems have been solved with the billions of federal dollars pumped into the region. So we are going to be fine. However, if you are living through the recovery process as a displaced person or business owner left wondering when the neighborhood will bounce back, your perspective is plainly different. In this case, you may be of the mind to ask: Why is recovery taking so long? Are we done with rebuilding yet? How long is this going to take? Another six months? A year? Come on, let’s wrap this thing and move on … where’s my bagel? I’ll have that light and sweet…taxi!

But that’s the thing. We have not heard in a clear concise manner the answer to two very important questions: 1) What does recovery look like? 2) How long will the recovery process take? Answer these, and the truth will set in motion certain freedoms for everyone.

To get at these questions, I recently went to Japan to take a look at the recovery efforts from the March 11, 2011, when the Great Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami claimed more than 18,000 lives and devastated coastal areas throughout northeastern Japan. Surely the most prepared country in the world with the third largest economy draws many parallels to our conditions in the Northeastern U.S. Do they have the answers we seek?

As of March 2014, three full years after the tsunami, 270,000 people across the region are still displaced, living in temporary housing. That is down from 370,000 people who were initially displaced. New coastal defenses and infrastructure, such as sea walls, are under construction, but clearly far from completion. Debris from the tsunami is still evident in many places. In port cities such as in Ishinomaki (pop. 160,000), the economy has not recovered as businesses struggle to find customers and viable space, where once vibrant neighborhoods existed.

Sound familiar? Does this resonate with parts of Brooklyn and Queens? Is the economic struggle similar to the New Jersey Shore? Well – yes, it does. But do the Japanese have answers that can help forecast our recovery timeline?

Sendai City


On my tour I had the pleasure of visiting with Sendai City Government officials, who welcomed me with open arms and open minds. Sendai City Planning, Recovery Operations, Temporary Housing Unit, and the Office of the Mayor gave me an entire day of their valuable time to review the damage to the city and surrounding region. I was given presentations on long-term planning, and toured temporary and newly-constructed housing, where I talked with the people living there. Sendai is a city of 1.1 million people and lies on the coastal zone hit hard by the tsunami. Thousands of buildings were washed away, many of which were very robust, reinforced-concrete structures built to withstand earthquakes. As a result of the tsunami the city government has rezoned the affected areas as non-residential coastal zones; if you own land and want to rebuild there, you simply cannot. The decision was to not rebuild in these areas of known risk, and relocate all former residents to new housing and constructed neighborhoods within Sendai City. In essence, up-zoning and increased density in the city is the plan for recovery and resilience.

When asked about the strategy, city officials reinforced that life safety, even a single life, trumps tradition, and that the public good is protected by not living in high-risk zones. Layers of new infrastructure and coastal protection are being built in these zones to further protect Sendai City itself, which will also provide public amenities, such as parks, transit systems, farm land, etc. The plan considers the next 100 years and beyond for Sendai and the surrounding towns.

Could and should the Northeastern U.S. do the same? Move tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of residents off of the barrier islands, out of known areas of risk? For better or worse? With politics as they are, not likely.

Infrastructure projects, such as 40- to 60-foot-high sea walls, lifting of entire communities, and relocation of entire neighborhoods and towns are in full swing. There is no fear of shaping the landscape at large scales to achieve their goals, such as taking down entire mountains to raise entire towns through cut-and-fill.

Large-scale reshaping of the landscape is evident everywhere you look. Are we in for similar circumstances, or do we have the stomach for such moves? To date, very little large-scale coastal protection has been put in motion in the Northeast U.S. Plans by Rebuild by Design and the Army Corp of Engineers are encouraging, but far from a final design solution – and even further from implementation. What we do see is sand replenishment, constructed dunes and berms, rip-rap, and similar beach protection that could not withstand a Sandy-like event on their own.

But, even with Japan’s robust building effort, expectation and reality rub up against one another. Residents who live in the coastal communities being reshaped by large infrastructure projects rely on the sea as a primary revenue generator, and their fundamental relationship with the sea is integral to their lives. Giant sea walls change that relationship in a way that most cannot accept. The fight over sea walls is in full swing – they are not simply taking away the view – they are changing how one can access the water.

Learning from recovery

Among the many areas where we can learn a great deal from the great eastern earthquake is the Japanese method of evacuation and relocation. All displaced families registered to live in temporary housing near former neighbors to help maintain community ties. In fact, everywhere I travelled the idea of community and well-being that stems from knowing your neighbor was central to preparation, mitigation, and recovery. These are not simply displaced people or families; these are displaced communities that will stay together at all cost. New housing projects I visited confirmed that „community“ remained the governing factor to resilience-planning all the way through to resettlement. When interviewed, residents in both temporary and new housing alike were happy and smiling about their circumstances, noting that they are alive and well, and, more importantly, among friends and neighbors.

Simply put, the answer to the question „What does recovery look like,“ from the Japanese perspective, is the point when „community“ is maintained or re-established. Is that what recovery looks like for New York and New Jersey? Or does our recovery hinge on jobs, restarting the economic engine, and revenue generation? In a recent presentation at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan, I asked Dan Zarrilli, director of the New York City Office of Recovery and Resilience, the same question, and his response was tied to economy and jobs. Not a bad answer, but it reveals a different approach to recovery and our current problems.

Now to the question: How long does recovery take? It depends on how you characterize “recovery.” If it is defined as community or economy, then we may have a difficult task ahead. If we take on only the physical state of recovery – buildings, infrastructure, and associated networks – as our measure, then we can plan a timeline tied to goals set forth. How long will any of the Rebuild by Design projects take, soup to nuts?

In Japan, the timeline was clear and often stated in the news and media by officials who project another eight to nine years to complete the region’s plans. That is a total of 12 years to execute comprehensive rebuilding of coastal protection measures, major infrastructure, and resettlement. Again, this is a country of means, better prepared for disaster and recovery, with fewer political boundaries and entanglements. In fact, the officials, engineers, and architects doing the work all echo the desire to move rapidly, as many of the displaced are part of Japan’s growing ageing population. To a person, they do not want anyone’s last days to be in temporary housing – a point stressed again and again by everyone with whom I spoke.

The correlation to New York and New Jersey is no different, and we need to hear from our public officials that recovery of this type will take a decade at least. That bitter pill needs to be administered and swallowed because public expectations do not match physical reality. It is far better that communities and people who are waiting know the timeline and future risks, which will enable them to make the decision to either establish a new life somewhere else or wait it out.

One final point in need of a dose of reality is the cost of rebuilding. It will take hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars to rebuild and make the Northeast Corridor resilient. A realistic price tag for the region is well beyond the federal dollars flowing slowly into these necessary efforts. But that is another story for another day.

We are not alone

The takeaway from my visit to Japan is the sense that everyone I met with is open to collaboration and information sharing. There is a hunger to know what we are doing here in the U.S., post-Sandy, and they recognize we can learn a great deal from one another. I believe that we share the same sentiment here in the Northeast. The world is collectively recognizing that we share a common future in dealing with climate change and defining resilience. I look forward to returning to Japan with an open mind and a desire to learn from our colleagues. And I look forward to a clearer path forward from our own leaders.


Illya Azaroff, AIA, is the founder of +LAB architect, PLLC in Brooklyn, NY, and an associate professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY), where he shares his expertise in disaster mitigation and resilient building strategies. He is founding co-chair of AIA New York Chapter’s Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR), and was among the leaders of the AIANY Post-Sandy Initiative and a contributor to the Post-Sandy Initiative Report. The report received the 2014 AIA National Collaborative Achievement Award; Azaroff also received the 2014 AIA National Young Architects Award. He is a trained instructor with the NDTPC-National Disaster Training Preparedness Center in Hawaii, and trained in post disaster damage assessment (SAP) by Cal EMA. His work with the AIA Regional Working Group, which incorporates experts from four regional states, garnered Azaroff the 2014 AIANYS Presidential Citation. His research in Japan and other recent disaster sites around the world have been supported by a CUNY research grant. He serves on the AIA New York State board as New York Regional Director for the Young Architects Forum (YAF), and on the AIA New York Chapter board.

(click on pictures to enlarge)


Artist Nishiko’s visualization of the height of waves from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Seawalls are being proposed across the region to meet these heights (up to approximately 65 feet).

Illya Azaroff

A typical current sea wall.

Illya Azaroff

Azaroff standing in front of a mock-up of proposed sea wall height.

Shigeru Ban Architects

Plan of Shigeru Ban’s three-story temporary housing in Onagawa, Japan.

Illya Azaroff

Shigeru Ban’s temporary housing in Onagawa started construction on July 22, 2011, and was completed on November 4, 2011.

Illya Azaroff

Community center for Shigeru Ban’s temporary housing, Onagawa.

Illya Azaroff

Sendai City temporary housing: Personal gardens, community spaces, and central square are part of the programmatic elements in these communities.

Illya Azaroff

Entryway adaptations to the temporary housing in Sendai City.

Illya Azaroff

Rain-water harvest adaptation for the temporary housing, Sendai City.

Illya Azaroff

Artwork adorns temporary housing units, Sendai City.

Illya Azaroff

Relocated indoor community space personalized with artwork by the children of the temporary housing community, Sendai City.

Illya Azaroff

Sendai City’s temporary housing, three years after the tsunami. Throughout the region 270,000 people are still displaced and living in housing such as this.

Illya Azaroff

New, multi-family replacement housing, Sendai City. Entire displaced communities were relocated together to keep a sense of neighborhood.

Illya Azaroff

Community centers and playing fields are regular programmatic elements in new Sendai City housing.

Illya Azaroff

Moving of 6-7 million cubic meters of earth for infill in Onagawa.

Marsha-Ann Cadougan/Illya Azaroff

Cut-and-fill process moving 6-7 million cubic meters of earth, Onagawa.

Marsha-Ann Cadougan/pluslab Architects

Existing roadway with proposed final height of Onagawa using 4-4.5-meter infill.

Marsha-Ann Cadougan/pluslab Architects

Dashed line indicates proposed height of infill for new Onagawa.

Illya Azaroff

Layers of coastal protection to be deployed in Ishinomaki, Japan.

Illya Azaroff

Sendai City Government meeting Illya Azaroff (center): l-r: Wataru Murakami, Manager, Sendai City Urban Planning Bureau; Masato Hasegawa Technical officer, Sendai City Urban Planning Bureau; Hitoshi Ichinohe, Seiichi Takahashi, Hiroshi Kyouya, Sendai City Urban Planning Bureau, Takeno Suzuki, Coordinator for International Relations, Miyagi Prefectural Government (translator).

Illya Azaroff

Illya Azaroff (right) with Onagawa engineer Takuro Kurushima, Construction Technology Institute (CTI) Engineering Co., Ltd., and former Director of Onagawa Reconstruction Office. They are standing in front of one of the remaining overturned structures that will be made into memorials to the devistation.

Prof. Imamura rät, Überschwemmungsgebiete für Tsunami einzuplanen -防潮堤計画へ新たな疑問浮上「東北大の苦言」










German woman encourages youth exchange through support of tsunami-hit Sanriku region

German woman encourages youth exchange through support of tsunami-hit Sanriku region

Gesa Neuert, organizer of a German-Japanese summer school. (Mainichi)
Gesa Neuert, organizer of a German-Japanese summer school. (Mainichi)

What began as a training session in Tokyo some 30 years ago has turned into a lifelong connection to Japan for one German mother of four.

In 1984, Gesa Neuert, who was then doing research on metabolic physiology at a university in Germany, took part in a training session at the University of Tokyo. She became fascinated with the people and culture of Japan, and became involved in Japanese-German exchange programs. Since 2003, when Neuert became the deputy chairman of the Association of German-Japanese Societies, she has organized homestays for over 800 young people from both countries.

Following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the German-Japanese Synergy Forum (DJSF) was established to encourage exchange between young people of both countries while supporting recovery in the disaster-hit areas, and Neuert became the organization’s president. The following year, it held its first DSJF Sanriku Fukkou Summer School session, in which students from both Japan and Germany got together and visited areas that were devastated by the 2011 disaster to learn how communities were rebuilding.

In March this year, as Neuert was preparing for DJSF’s second summer school session, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery to remove the malignant lesions and underwent drug therapy. Initially, doctors had told her that treatment would last until early September. Her treatment period was cut back, however, when Neuert insisted that she had to run summer school.

When Neuert first arrived in Japan for this year’s three-week session in September, she was unwell due to the side effects of the drugs she’d been taking. But she couldn’t help but be moved by a traditional shishi (deer) dance performance at a Shinto shrine in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture that to her was evidence of the people starting to get their beloved hometowns back. In Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, meanwhile, she expressed misgivings about government plans to build a massive concrete seawall, saying, „Concrete will not bring back the landscape and lives that have been lost.“

Running the summer school is not easy. But Neuert believes exchange between youths is indispensable for the future of both Japan and Germany. For now, though, she will focus on regaining her strength, so that she can come back again next year.


毎日新聞 2014年10月10日 東京朝刊


 ◇ゲーザ・ノイエルト(Gesa Neuert)さん(58)

約3週間に及ぶ「第2回独日三陸復興サマー・スクール」を企画し、9月に日独の学生らと東日本大震災の被災地を訪ねて復興の現状を学んだ。 ドイツの大学で代謝生理学の研究をしていた1984年、東京大での実習に参加。日本の人と文化に魅了され交流活動に携わるようになった。独日連合協会の副会長だった2003年から、800人以上の若者を両国にホームステイさせた。








Einladung zur Teilnahme: Symposium „Sanriku Fukkou“ am 5. 9. in Yoyogi, NYC und am 6.9. im Goethe Institut in Akasaka



Flyer Goethe



Please share! ‚Sanriku Reconstruction Symposium‘ held at the National Institution for Youth Education National Olympics Memorial Youth Center on 5 Sep 2014 and at The Goethe Institution in Akasaka on 6 Sep 2014 in Tokyo.

Hiroko Otsuka will talk about: ‚Live Together With The Sea – The Seawalls, Education and Intercultural Communication‘ – The role of education and ‚intercultural‘ communication in post-disaster Kesennuma, my hometown, from the view point of a teacher, a mother and an ordinary global citizen whose survived family and townspeople are being challenged by the issues of giant concrete seawalls, disaster risk and reconstruction of sustainable future.

Please come and give us your opinion, especially if you are interested in giving voices to those who often do not have, like women, children and victims of disasters?


Im Rahmen der 2. Deutsch-Japanischen Summer School DJSF Sanriku Fukkou findet am 5. 9. in Yoyogi, NYC, und am 6.9. im Goethe Institut in Akasaka das 2. Symposium zum Wiederaufbau an der Sanriku‬ Küste statt. Wie sieht es dreieinhalb Jahre nach der‪ großen Tsunami Katastrophe‬ aus? Am 5. September ist u.a. an Beispielen aus Kesennuma: Shibitachi und Koizumi‬ Bucht, der Schwerpunkt auf resiliente Planungen mit Perspektiven auf einen Wiederaufbau und ein Leben im Einklang mit der Natur gelegt. Wichtig ist, wieder Kraft und Identität zu erlangen. Hier spielen überlieferte Traditionen, Shintoriten, Matsuri, Tänze, Volkskunde und überlieferte Kenntnisse vom Leben mit Wald, Meer und Küste in Einklang mit der Natur.

Gerade die Koizumi Bucht ist international in den Medien bekannt geworden, da hier eine 90 m breite und 14,7 m hohe Betonmauer errichtet werden soll, die den nach dem Tsunami übrig gebliebenen gesamten Sandstrand bedecken wird.

Am 6.9. beschäftigen wir uns mit der aktuellen Politik in Japan, das Verhältnis zu China und Deutschland, und ob es ein Umdenken in der japanischen Gesellschaft in Bezug auf zukünftige Energiepolitik gegeben hat, sowie den Strukturen in Politik und Bauindustrie.

Bitte besuchen Sie das Symposium in Yoyogi, NYC und im Goethe Institut, Akasaka


National Institution for Youth Education National Olympics Memorial Youth Center (NYC)
3-1. Yoyogi Kamizono-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0052 JAPAN
TEL.+81-3-3467-7201(General number)

Goethe Institut, Tokyo

Adresse: 7 Chome-5-56 Akasaka, Minato, Tokyo, Japan

Telefon:+81 3-3584-3201

Betonwälle – 14,5 m hoch – geplant als Küstenschutz


Betonwälle - 14,5 m hoch - geplant als Küstenschutz

Planungen zum Küstenschutz in Kesennuma, Rikuzentakata, Otuchi und Taro:

‪#‎Japan‬ – ‪#‎Erkundung‬ von ‪#‎Tokyo‬ und ‪#‎Tohoku‬:
Während der 2. ‪#‎Deutschjapanischen‬ ‪#‎Summerschool‬ ‪#‎Sanrikufukkou‬ werden wir vom 7.9. bis zum 15.9. die Städte ‪#‎Kesennuma‬, ‪#‎Rikuzentakata‬, ‪#‎Otsuchi‬ und ‪#‎Taro‬ besuchen und mit Wissenschaftlern, Politikern, Behörden und Betroffenen über die Pläne und Umsetzungen der geplanten ‪#‎Betonwälle‬ – teilweise bis 14,7 m hoch sprechen. An einigen Orten waren die Proteste gegen diese Planungen so erfolgreich, dass nun neu geplant werden kann. In Rikuzentakta und Taro werden bereits Berge abgetragen, zum einen um dort Baugelände zu gewinnen und neue Wohnanlagen zu bauen, zum anderen, um das Bodenniveau an der Küste anzuheben.


 wissenschaftliche Überlegungen zum Küstenschutz

Ein Artikel von  Associate Professor Yokoyama Katsuhide, Tokyo Metropolitan University

Vom 7. bis 9. September werden wir an der Sanriku Küste mehrere Buchten und Strände in Kesennuma und Rikuzentakata besichtigen und mit Wissenschaftlern, Studenten und Jugendlichen vor Ort über weitere Planungen zum Küstenschutz und „Leben mit dem Meer“ diskutieren.