Japan: Aftermath of a Disaster

We return to Japan to see how the remote community of Miyako has recovered from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Ten years ago, in November 2006, Al Jazeera English was launched. To mark that anniversary, we’ve created REWIND, which updates some of the channel’s most memorable and award-winning documentaries of the past decade. We find out what happened to some of the characters in those films and ask how the stories have developed in the years since our cameras left.

Japan had been waiting decades for “the big one” to hit, an earthquake powerful enough to devastate the country

Emergency services and the public were drilled in how to respond when the earth moved; thousands of kilometres of sea walls were built to protect the coast from tsunamis, the deadly after-effects of quakes out at sea.

I've never forgotten for a moment the black tsunami wave going over the coastal levee ... I was one of the affected people. My house was swept away.

by Naoshi Iwata, head of the Civilian Life Department in Miyako City Hall

But when the earthquake came on March 11, 2011, few would have predicted the devastation it caused. The magnitude 9.0 quake unleashed a tsunami so powerful, it tore through Japan’s defences as though they were not there.

The surge turned towns and cities into matchwood, killed thousands of people and caused a still-to-be resolved nuclear crisis.

As Al Jazeera’s People & Power discovered, among the communities hit was the small port city of Miyako in northern Japan. In the days after the disaster its surviving citizens somehow had to carry on with their lives.

REWIND recently returned to Miyako and spoke with Naoshi Iwata, the head of the Civilian Life Department in Miyako City Hall, to see how those people have moved on.

“There are people who have returned to the affected area … I am going to retire in less than a year. This is where I was born and raised … So I really look forward to the weekends and catching up with my neighbours. I want to continue living here.”