By Yuka Matsumoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMIYAKO, Iwate — The sea of oddly shaped rocks begins to gleam in the sunlight, though visitors still feel a chill in the wind in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture.
There’s a saying that “once cherry trees blossom, yamase begins to blow” in this city along the Rikuchu coast. Yamase is a cold seasonal wind.
The Manabu Bosai (disaster management study) guided tour has turned a new page after beginning in the Taro district in 2012, the year after the Great East Japan Earthquake. It started as an emergency project by the prefectural government, but the Miyako city government decided to continue it and has entrusted the Miyako Tourism Cultural Exchange Association with the project since fiscal 2017.
Tsunami easily topped a 10-meter-high coastal levee, dubbed the Great Wall, during the disaster. The land was raised in the city and a new coastal levee is being constructed, making it hard to imagine the original view of Taro.
“That’s why we want people to learn along with us,” said tour guide Kumiko Motoda, 59. On the tour, participants visit the damaged coastal levee and Taro Kanko Hotel, which the city government has preserved as tsunami memorials.
Taro was known as the “disaster management town,” having prepared for disasters since it was hit by massive tsunami in the Meiji (1868-1912) and Showa (1926-89) eras.
However, the latest tsunami claimed many lives. There have been over 120,000 participants in the tour, which describes the pain felt and lessons learned.
The Sanriku region used to be at the bottom of the sea, and its beautiful indented coastline is the result of repeated upheaval and encroachment. Jodogahama beach, which is said to be “the land of perfect bliss,” showed its seabed on the day of the 2011 disaster. Local people say they saw the seabed, more than 10 meters below the land, following the backwash.
“I’d never been so scared,” said Jun Shimazaki, who works for the Jodogahama rest house facing the sea, recalling the disaster. The 37-year-old said he didn’t hear even a single Japanese gull crying at that time.
Although the guests and employees of the hotel evacuated to safety, the building — which had just been remodeled — was destroyed. With the help of volunteers, Shimazaki cleaned the beach where debris had washed up and the rest house resumed business a year later.
The beach saw more tourists in the two or three years after the 2011 earthquake, thanks partly to the NHK serial drama “Amachan,” but Shimazaki believes business “will be put to the test from now on.”
Atsuhiko Seki, general manager of the Park Hotel Jodogahama, thinks along the lines of Shimazaki. “Making it resemble the original is not enough,” said Seki. “We must go forward.”
Overlooking the beach, the Park Hotel Jodogahama was not damaged during the disaster and was temporarily used as a shelter.
The hotel underwent a full renovation last year, and the space for its restaurant was expanded so diners can relax while gazing at the sea. The hotel also introduced a kitchen where local foods are cooked up before customer’s eyes.
A number of efforts were made after the disaster. For example, the Kyukamura Rikuchu Miyako hotel, located on a hill, constructed a camping area in the Anegasaki district equipped with a solar power system and chip boiler to be used in the event of a disaster. Another company started an eco-car sharing business to lend electric vehicles that serve as power sources in case of emergency.
Wanting to see up close the natural beauty of the jagged coastline, I rode in a small boat called the “sappabune,” traveling through a gap in the rocks toward the mysterious Blue Cave. If you want to see the uniquely shaped rocks along the bay in more depth, the Miyako Jodogahama Boat Cruise is a fantastic choice. You can truly appreciate Rosokuiwa (candle rock), Hideshima (rising-sun island) and Shiofukiana (spouting blowhole), among other sights.
Aoi Yokoyama, 20, served as our guide on the boat, which was saved from the tsunami by its skipper. Yokoyama said she’d planned to study outside the prefecture but volunteered for her current position after watching guides work very hard, undaunted by the disaster. She said she wants to enliven the area through tourism.
The Sanriku is certified as one of the Japan Geoparks, serving as an outdoor museum to help showcase the workings of the Earth.
“Things created by human beings can be destroyed, but nature won’t change,” said Makoto Yaegashi, 54, head of the operation unit of the cruising company. It is the mission of “those who were kept alive” to promote the “local attractions” of their hometown, he added.
Front-runner in local vitalization
During the Manabu Bosai tour, I was speechless as I watched video footage showing the dark tsunami topping the coastal levee in the Taro district.
“The important thing is to protect your own life by yourself,” Motoda said. Each word deeply moved me.
Miyako locals have been devastated by the raging power of nature, but have stood up again many times. They are facing forward yet again. They are motivated, too, trying to be the front-runners of local vitalization efforts at the core of tourism in the Sanriku region. I want to visit there as often as I can to support them.
It takes about 2 hours and 10 minutes from Tokyo to Morioka Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen line. From there, it takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to reach Miyako Station by bus. It is 15 minutes from the station to Jodogahama beach by bus or car.
For more information, call the Miyako Tourism Cultural Exchange Association at (0193) 62-3534.
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