Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Seawall in Usuiso

It's a breezy day here on the Tohoku coast.  I'm looking out at the ocean from the re-emerging Rikuzen-takata.  One thing I've noticed (among many), is the widespread use of flags.  Tour guides use them to lead their groups,construction sites use them everywhere.  They're usually the long and narrow type, on 6' poles, now common on the Oregon coast and elsewhere.  I gather this type was long-used by Japanese armies, so not really surprising to see them here.  Perhaps more odd that it seems familiar.

I left the telling of things at Monday night, in the coastal city of Ishinomaki.  After a huge Japanese dinner on Monday, featuring such unsuspected delicacies as fried chicken cartilage and daikon root soup, we spent Tuesday touring a new seawall in Usuiso.  Pre-GEJE, it was a popular beach town, with good surfing, a little fishing fleet, and several hundred families.  Six years later, the new, higher levees include a large, newly-forested buffer zone and park, but the 14 surviving houses are still all alone.  Surrounding hills have been flattened to provide fill for the control structures and a flat place for the re-drawn, smaller lots.  Yeah, redrawn.  It's a kind of 'eminent domain' called Land Readjustment that allows the government to redivide people's lots for common structure.  Relatively rare before,  it's now being done all up and down the coast.  I don't think folks are necessarily excited about it, but it is what it is.  The relationship between the Japanese and their federal government is somewhat different...possibly more accepting...than in the States.

Our morning tour with the engineers revealed some of the amazing work that's being done to move and compact each additional foot of soil.  The hillsides all around have gutters and drains, meant to keep them from saturating.  Those drains run right through the new subdivision, picking up overflow from each home's septic tank before entering a common pipe that drains into the ocean.  Apparently, it's common practice in less dense areas to deal with sewer this way.  The cost of connecting all, or any, the remote corners of Japan would certainly be huge.  Better to save sewage treatment for cities.  Who here works for Portland's sewer bureau?  Oh, that'd be me...

During our break, Josh (our program coordinator) and Steve (from Arbor Lodge) and I walked along the seawall, which is now 7 meters high, around 23 feet.  And, while it's impressive and while it's low enough that people behind can look over and SEE a tsunami coming (an important criticism of some other seawalls), we couldn't help but look across the road at the hills and think:  'ooo.  It would suck to  climb those.'  It seems there's still a bit of glibness, some off-handed casualness in the discussion of these large projects.  "Save all that money," the argument goes.  "Just make people go up."  Mmm. Easy to say.

After lunch we heard from a guy on Usuiso's Recovery Committee, who talked about how the recovery was going.  Interesting to hear how the local efforts developed, but, as we left, we stopped at  a shrine to the townspeople who had died.  He followed us, and began telling us about some of the names on the list.  He was remarkably stoic: as a volunteer firefighter, that's kind of par for the course.  But, these are hard stories and mostly about the kids he had known, and, in some cases, had to retrieve from the wreckage.  Suffice it to say, these were the stories we expected to hear on this excursion, but I'll leave it at that for now.

After returning to Sendai for the night, we heard from Tohoku University students and faculty Wednesday morning, before heading off to Rikuzen-takata in the afternoon.  More later...

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