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‘It feels like we’re in jail’: Japan spent $12 billion on seawalls after the devastating 2011 tsunami — and now locals are feeling like prisoners

Mar 12, 2018
Japan’s Fukushima disaster – a devastating string of events that included a tsunami with 42-foot high waves – left 18,000 dead in 2011.
In response, many towns along Japan’s coast have since built massive seawalls to help protect against future tsunamis.
Many locals aren’t happy with the walls, saying they feel like they’re “in jail.”
 
This month marks the seven-year anniversary of Japan’s Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
 
The catastrophic Fukushima disaster included a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, a resulting tsunami, and a power-plant accident, which left close to 18,000 people dead in total.
 
The tsunami also took 5 million tons of debris with it. While 70% of the debris sank, 1.5 million tons of it was left floating in the Pacific Ocean.
 
Since the devastation, some towns have prohibited building in flatter areas near the coast, while others have raised their land before building new structures.
 
Others are building seawalls. About 245 miles of seawall structure has been built along the coast to protect from future tsunamis. It has cost Japan about $12 billion to build these 41-foot concrete seawalls, according to Reuters, which block the view of the beaches and sea from residents – and some people aren’t happy with it.
 
“It feels like we’re in jail, even though we haven’t done anything bad,” an oyster fisherman, Atsushi Fujita, told Reuters. Others are worried about the walls discouraging tourism.
 
Ahead, a look at the resulting seawalls along Japan’s coast.
The new seawalls are 41 feet high and made of concrete.
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These newer walls replaced the old 13-foot breakwaters, which were destroyed during the Fukushima disaster on March 11, 2011.
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“It feels like we’re in jail, even though we haven’t done anything bad,” Atsushi Fujita, a 52-year-old oyster fisherman, told Reuters.
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Around 245 miles of seawalls have been built at a cost of about $12.74 billion.
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“The seawalls will halt tsunamis and prevent them from inundating the land,” Hiroyasu Kawai, a researcher at the Port and Airport Research Institute in Yokosuka, told Reuters.
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“Even if the tsunami is bigger than the wall, the wall will delay flooding and guarantee more time for evacuation,” said Kawai.
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Some locals are worried the tourism industry will be negatively effected by the seawalls.
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“About 50 years ago, we came up here with the kids and enjoyed drives along the beautiful ocean and bays. Now, there’s not even a trace of that,” Reiko Iijima, a tourist from central Japan, told Reuters.
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Others find it to be more than just an eyesore. “Everyone here has lived with the sea, through generations,” Sotaro Usui, head of a tuna supply company, told Reuters. “The wall keeps us apart — and that’s unbearable.”
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Part of the seawalls in the city of Kesennuma have window cut-outs.
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“They’re a parody,” Yuichiro Ito said of the windows. Ito lost his home and younger brother in the tsunami. “It’s just to keep us happy with something we never wanted in the first place.”
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A man looks through a window of a seawall at a port in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.
 
Initially, many welcomed the building of the seawalls, but have become more critical of them over time.
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Some locals told Reuters that they were not consulted enough in the planning stages, and money spent on rebuilding elsewhere, such as housing, has fallen behind.
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Fishermen are also worried. Some told Reuters that the sea walls could block natural water flows from the land and impact future production.
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Here, the “Miracle Pine,” a tree which is said to symbolize hope and recovery after it survived the 2011 tsunami, stands next to a damaged building in front of the newly built seawall in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.
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Still, some locals are glad to have a wall. “I can’t say things like ‘the wall should be lower’ or ‘we don’t need it,'” Katsuhiro Hatakeyama, who has rebuilt his bed and breakfast business in the same location as before, told Reuters. “It’s thanks to the wall that I could rebuild, and now have a job.”
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March 15, 2018 - Posted by | Japan | ,

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