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East Japan Disaster – A Few More Photos and Comments

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Just a few more photos and comments about the disaster that I haven’t posted before.

Koriyama (late March / early April 2011)

The city of Koriyama is in central Fukushima Prefecture, about an hour south of Fukushima City.

Koriyama Station

March 28, 2011. Notice board at Koriyama Station showing which trains are running. On this day, the only train in operation was the one going west to Aizu-Wakamatsu. It was not possible to go anywhere else by train.

A few weeks after the disaster, I went to the immigration office in Koriyama to update my work visa.  The update required two trips – the first one in late March to fill out the paperwork, and the second one in early April to pick up the new visa. There were very few foreigners left in Fukushima at that time, so at the immigration office there was almost no wait at all.

For my first trip in late March, there were no trains running and gasoline was difficult to find. Fortunately there was a bus service operating. The buses were very crowded because it was the only way to travel at that time.  I took a bus from Fukushima Station to the main train station in Koriyama, and then walked from there to the immigration office. The walk was about thirty minutes, and it took me through the most heavily damaged part of the city.

For the April visit, the trains were operating again between Yonezawa, Fukushima, and Koriyama, but the schedule changed from day to day, and connections to other cities were spotty. I decided to take my chances with the trains, and managed to get there and back OK. But I was lucky – just half an hour after I returned home, there was a strong aftershock and the trains were stopped – again.

Here are some of the things I saw on my trips to Koriyama.

On the bus

There was no train service and it was very difficult to find gasoline for your car. So the buses were very crowded.

Safe

Most of the buildings in the downtown area had been inspected for damage, and the results posted near the entrance. This one is “Safe.”

Limited entry

“Limited entry”

Unsafe

“Unsafe”

Kappa Sushi Restaurant

Kappa Sushi restaurant.

Kappa Sushi entrance

Kappa Sushi restaurant entrance.

Kappa Sushi

Kappa Sushi restaurant. The building has since been torn down.

Toppled vending machine

Toppled vending machine and a block of buildings declared “Unsafe.”

Scary-looking building

A very scary-looking apartment building. Surprisingly, I saw people going up the stairs to get things out of their apartments.

Book Off

Book Off used bookstore. This group of buildings was a mess on the inside and starting to come apart on the outside. Declared “Unsafe.”

Office building

This buiding looks pretty awful on the outside, but the lights were on and people were inside working.

Uneven sidewalk

The earthquake left the sidewalks a little uneven in places.

At first I thought the whole city would be like this, but it wasn’t. Just six blocks to the north, things were different and there was very little visible damage. Maybe the ground is softer in this part of town.

Sendai (May 2011)

I live about two hours outside of Sendai, and go there maybe once every two or three months.  At the beginning of May, I made my first trip there since the disaster. I’d been wanting to visit one of the tsunami areas, since I’d been seeing the pictures every time I turned on the TV. It didn’t seem right to go sightseeing in a place where people had lost everything they owned, but I thought a commercial / industrial district might be OK. So I decided to take a walk around the Mitsui Outlet Park shopping center, near Sendai Harbor.

Mitsui Outlet Park

Piles of debris and rubbish, Mitsui Outlet Park shopping center

Mitsui Outlet Park

Flattened street lights and electric poles.

Mitsui Outlet Park

Parts of the guard rail and fence, and even chunks of pavement were ripped up and washed away.

Mitsui Outlet Park

The tsunami had less force here than in some other places, and most of the newer buildings survived.

Mitsui Outlet Park

A couple cars that were washed up by the tsunami. The traffic lights in this part of town were not working yet when these pictures were taken.

Car graveyard

Car graveyard. These cars were left scattered all over by the tsunami. Cleanup workers dragged over here to get them out of the way.

Ishinomaki (December 2011)

Ishinomaki was one of the hardest-hit cities, with thousands of people dead and entire neighborhoods destroyed. My first visit here was in December 2010 (before the disaster). At that time, I thought about continuing on to Onagawa, the next town to the east, but I decided that I didn’t have time for it. Now I wish I had, because the central part of Onagawa was completely wiped out.

Getting back to Ishinomaki, in November 2011 the city government announced that they were ready to receive visitors again, so I decided to go there during the winter break and see what had changed from the year before. Some neighborhoods have been cleaned up and repaired or rebuilt, and everything looks new. Other neighborhoods still have a lot of destroyed buildings waiting to be torn down. In the downtown area, about half of the buildings have been cleaned up and reopened. About one-third of the downtown buildings appear to be abandoned and are waiting to be torn down. There is a lot of demolition work going on just about everywhere you look.

Ishinomaki’s most famous landmark is the Mangattan museum, commemorating the work of comic book artist Shotaro Ishinomori. Some of his works include “Kamen Rider” (which first aired on TV in the 1970s, and is still on today), “Cyborg 009,” and “Hotel.” He holds the world record for the number of comics published by one artist.

Mangattan museum December 2011

Mangattan museum, on an island near the mouth of the river running through the city. The whole island was covered by the tsunami, but the museum building survived.

Mangattan museum entrance

Mangattan museum entrance. The museum hadn’t reopened yet, but a lot of people have come and left messages of encouragement on the boarded-up windows and doors.

Manga Island

Across the street from the Mangattan museum. You can see the remains of buildings or something in the foreground. (I wish I’d taken a picture of this in 2010, because I forgot what used to be here.)

Playground

There used to be a nice park and playground here. I’m sure there will be again. I can’t figure out how this playground equipment survived. The houses on the other side of the river are mostly empty, full of holes, and waiting to be torn down.

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Cleaned-up street

Cleaned-up street in downtown Ishinomaki

Finally, a cheap Geiger counter!

It’s not as accurate as the more expensive ones, but for the price it’s pretty good. When I take the train to Fukushima, it’s interesting to watch the level go up as we come out of the mountains and descend the hills on the west side of the city. In the hills the reading is around 0.10. When we reach the rice fields on the west edge of the city, it’s up to over 0.20. In the downtown area it’s around 0.5 to 0.7, and it tends to increase as you go southeast from there. There’s a minor hot spot on the west side of Fukushima Station where it’s near 1.0. In Hobara, the residential areas are mostly 0.4 to 0.6, while the industrial park is over 0.8. If you go about 30 kilometers southeast from there (which I have no plans to do right now), the level becomes so high (over 5.0) that most of the residents have left.

For comparison, before the disaster the level was between 0.03 and 0.04 microseiverts per hour, just the natural background radiation coming from outer space, rocks in the ground, or whatever.

Air Counter

Air Counter

Air Counter reading

The radiation level in my apartment in Yonezawa.

Do I really need any more disaster books?

Disaster books

Disaster books

Go into almost any bookstore, and you will see a display of books related to the disaster. A large number were published in the spring and summer of 2011, and another bunch were published in the first few months of 2012 for the one-year anniversary. I haven’t counted, but there might be as many as fifty titles altogether. When I’m in a bookstore, it’s hard to resist the temptation to pick them up and look through them.

Another one that I’m thinking of buying is “One Year in Fukushima,” a photographic summary of the events of the past year and their effect on Fukushima Prefecture. Then there’s “Letters from the Children of Fukushima.” I look at it sometimes, thinking, “If there’s something in there by one of my students, I’m buying it.” But so far, nothing.

The books in the photo are as follows.

Top left: A celebration of the life of Yuna. (An ordinary seven-year-old who disappeared in the tsunami along with her mother and grandfather, and is presumed dead. The book was published by her father. They lived in the evacuation zone near the power plant, so it hasn’t been possible to do a thorough search for their bodies.)

Middle left: “Downwinders” – the struggles of the people of Iitate village as they cope with dangerous levels of radiation.

Bottom left: How to protect your children from radiation.

Center: Disaster area atlas, “The Year Tohoku Cried,” and another atlas showing the disaster’s effect on train travel.

Right: Disaster photo magazine and book, and an atlas giving a scientific explanation of the geology of the disaster.

A few more from Hobara.

To end with, here are a few more photos of my own town of Hobara. I’m not living there any more, but I still go there two times a week for work.

Graveyard path 2011

Graveyard path near my apartment, March 11, 2011.

Graveyard path 2012

Graveyard path on March 11, 2012

Street view March 2011

Looking across the street from my school. March 11, 2011.

Street view March 2012

Looking across the street from my school. March 11, 2012.

Pottery shop 2011

Looking down the street from my school, in the other direction. March 2011.

Pottery shop 2012

Looking down the street in the other direction. March 11, 2012.

Crack at community center 2011

Crack at the Hobara community center July 2011. Has it gotten bigger since March? It hadn’t been repaired yet because there were a lot of more important things to take care of first.

Crack at community center 2012

Crack at the Hobara community center on March 11, 2012. The repair was done sometime in the last couple months. I think the crack was still there in December, but I don’t remember for sure.

That’s all for now.

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Written by hobara09

2012-04-16 at 4:01 pm