On March 11, 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck off Japan’s northeastern coast, triggering a tsunami that devastated the region. In this collection, some of our current and former students reflect on their experiences supporting recovery efforts and carrying out research in the affected Tōhoku region.

A pile plastic bags full of soil contaminated with radioactive materialsEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

In the winter of 2016...
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In the winter of 2016, I participated in a study tour organized by the Fukushima Prefectural Government. Together with around 20 students from two high schools, I visited various sites and facilities in Fukushima, including those in the “difficult-to-return zone” (Kitaku Konnan Kuiki)—areas that cannot be used for residential purposes due to relatively high rates of annual cumulative radiation. We also had the opportunity to interact with local community leaders and heard their testimony about the triple disaster and reconstruction efforts.

An Abandoned HouseEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

My visit to Fukushima...
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My visit to Fukushima occurred more than five years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, but the scars it left on Fukushima were still present and visible. Heaps of debris left at the seashore, piles of bags of soil contaminated by radiation, and deserted houses within the “difficult-to-return-zone” all reminded us that the disaster was not over, despite the decrease in media coverage.

Participants of the Study Tour in the Naraha Center for Remote Control Technology Development (NARREC)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

I remain very thankful...
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I remain very thankful for the opportunity to visit the sites impacted by the disaster and hear the firsthand accounts of community leaders. Many of these people lost their fortunes or valued family members due to the triple disaster. But they exhibited remarkable resilience and a love for the region, finding new initiatives to bring back local residents who fled the affected areas. While these community leaders had different and conflicting views on contentious issues such as responsibility for the nuclear disaster, they welcomed me with local cuisines and inspired me with their cheerfulness.

Participants of the Study TourEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

My experience during the tour...
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My experience during the tour did not immediately offer a clear vision of Fukushima’s path to reconstruction, but it certainly transformed my attitude toward the rebuilding efforts. The trip was a vivid testament to the fact that individuals, with their distinct aspirations and stories, are behind the news headlines and ambitious policies. We could endeavor to humanize the issue by learning more about their firsthand accounts.

Since the trip, I have helped organize several exhibitions on the Great East Japan Earthquake and Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake, which hit my high school’s hometown of Kobe. These undertakings have sought to preserve and disseminate the inspiring voices of survivors. As a part of the Harvard community, I hope to continue contributing to an ongoing effort to connect Japan and the rest of the world by sharing these stories of resilience, recovery, and the critical lessons that can be learned from disaster.

Satoshi YanaizuEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

About the Author

Satoshi Yanaizu is a sophomore at Harvard College concentrating in Social Studies. His interests include the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific as well as political philosophy. He hails from Osaka and went to Nada High School at Kobe. The school has a student-led initiative, “Tohoku Project,” that allows students to visit the Tohoku region regularly and hosts annual exhibitions on the region’s rebuilding efforts.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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