Rather than forget the horrors of the disaster, this coastal town has set up daily reminders of the tsunami on the streets

In times of devastating loss the world as you know it seems to stop for a while, with time passing slowly as if it may never start up the way it used to again. Then, before you realise it, months and then years pass by, and while things change and you get used to the new normal, the events of the past edge further away, but they’re never, ever forgotten.

These are the thoughts that come to mind as we recall the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake that struck off the coast of the Tohoku region on the afternoon of 11 March 2011. One of the worst-hit areas was Miyako in Iwate Prefecture, where tsunami waves reached heights of up to 40.5 meters (133 feet).

As we edge close to the ninth anniversary of the disaster this week, our reporter Takashi Harada decided to share his story of the trip he took up to Miyako last summer to see how it was faring almost a decade after the coastal area was completely devastated.

Arriving at Miyako Station, Takashi stepped out into a quiet coastal town that was far away from the hustle and bustle of a big city like Tokyo. It had a relaxed atmosphere, and yet a sense of sombreness hung in the air. He thought this might’ve just been him projecting his own sorrow over what happened here out into the world, but then he realised he’d been seeing signs like this in his peripheral vision.

As he walked around, he saw that these blue-and-white signs were everywhere. Written across them was:

“2011.3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake The tsunami inundation depth reached here.”

These signs really make the devastation hit home for visitors, and Takashi was deeply moved by what he saw. Like scars on the townscape, the signs could be found next to both one-storey buildings and other buildings that were several storeys tall.

▼ Some of the signs reveal that the tsunami swallowed the entire ground floor of some buildings.

Jodogahama, a series of rock formations along the coast of Miyako Bay, is a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty. While it looks peaceful today, there was a time when the water here surged inland.

▼ Overlooking Jodogahama is a seaside rest house.

Heading up to the rest house reveals another blue sign showing the height of the water when the tsunami engulfed the town.

▼ The tsunami here reached the ceiling on the second floor.

The rest house, which was restored in June 2012, now sells souvenirs. There’s no forgetting the past here, though, as a photo posted outside the building shows what it looked like at the end of March 2011. Glass on both stories of the building shattered, and everything inside was swept away in the tsunami.

The red arrow points to the observatory, so Takashi went up the outer stairs to get to it. Looking out from this height, he could get a better view of just how high the water would have been on that disastrous day.

He felt overwhelmed with sadness, thinking about the horrors that people witnessed and the lives that were lost on 11 March 2011. Although he only spent a few days in Miyako, Takashi says what he saw and experienced in the coastal town will stay with him for a lifetime.

While a lot of the damaged buildings in the area have since been rebuilt and restored, Miyako will never forget the day the tsunami swept their town away. The signs throughout the area act as a constant reminder not just of the devastation they experienced, but how quickly a disaster can occur. 

Nine years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and though life goes on, at 2:46 pm on 11 March, Japan will stop for a minute and remember. As we send up a prayer for all the people who were affected by the disaster, we will never, ever forget that day.

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