News / Asia

In Japanese Port Town, Hope Rises Amid Devastation

The 6,000-ton 'Asia Symphony' was washed onto the Kamaishi docks by the tsunami
The 6,000-ton 'Asia Symphony' was washed onto the Kamaishi docks by the tsunami

Multimedia

Audio
Henry Ridgwell

Japan's prime minister has vowed to "rebuild the nation from scratch" as estimates of the cost of last week's earthquake and tsunami reach upward of $120 billion. The massive wave wiped out a whole swathe of coastline, taking with it factories, farms, roads, railways, houses and thousands of victims.

The devastated port of Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture has a long history of rising from the ashes of disaster. Henry Ridgwell visited the town, and found hope amid the wreckage and the reconstruction effort underway there.

The 6,000-ton freighter Asia Symphony lies beached on the docks at Kamaishi.  The tsunami lifted her over the harbor and into the town. The looming bow of this huge vessel now sits within touching distance of a quayside house.

The surreal presence has become a symbol of the damage inflicted on Kamaishi.  Along with the estimated 450 residents killed, the tsunami has ripped the industrial heart from this busy port.

Wandering among the twisted remains of the dockyard is construction worker Mazakatsu Sano.  He says everything still feels unreal, like a dream.

Sano says it will take at least a year to reconstruct this place.  He says everything - water, gas, electricity - will have to be re-built from scratch.  

Looming over the port lies the Nippon Steel factory. It is a major employer in town and makes a large percentage of the world’s steel wires and rods for vehicle tires and bridges.  The plant’s monthly output of 60,000 tons has been cut to zero.

Taking a walk through their devastated hometown are old friends Ayako Ito and Sei Obara. At 84 and 82 years old, respectively,  they remember when Kamaishi became a target for Allied warships during World War II, because of its important steelworks. "The warships out in the bay fired shells 300 meters inland," said Ito. "It was terrifying!"

Ito says when the shells were fired, many people hid behind a huge wooden shelter. But a bomb landed behind it, and many people died. She says it still shocks her.  She says every day people put rice and beans in their bags so they had food in case their homes were destroyed.

Sei Obara remembers the war, and is optimistic that Japan will again recover. "If we got through that," he says, "we can get through this. We will work hard, we will fight!"

The warships now anchored off Kamaishi carry Japan’s own self-defense forces, which are using the town as a base for relief efforts.

Downtown Kamaishi is a wasteland, it’s streets lined with the former fixtures of normal life. The clock in the town square is twisted and contorted out of shape. Hundreds of cars are crumpled in the rubble. The contents of a children’s toy store are broken and strewn across the street. All will soon be carted away in the endless stream of dump trucks that throw up clouds of choking dust.

In their midst, disoriented survivors, a steady trickle of tsunami refugees, wander through the wreckage.

The economic impact will be felt hardest by the estimated half a million homeless. People like Isao Nozawa and his family, who are searching the remains of their wrecked house. It was lifted off its foundations - and now sits on top of the family car. "I am not insured for this," he says.  "I did not take out tsunami or earthquake insurance because it is too expensive."

Back at the docks, Mazakatsu Sano looks out across the landscape that has been his lifelong workplace. "Maybe all the reconstruction work will provide us with jobs," he says, adding, "maybe."

The tsunami has wrecked Kamaishi. But the survivors insist that soon the now silent cranes and warehouses will once more ring out with the sound of industry.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs