March 11, 2011. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off-shore and birthed a terrible black wave that hit the coastal areas. Iwate Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture, Fukushima Prefecture, and the rest of the northeastern coast of Japan are still hard at work rebuilding the stricken coastal areas. As part of Iwate’s reconstruction plan, there are a number of forward-looking projects that serve to develop and grow the Sanriku coast of Iwate so that its communities may continue into the future. Part of that is the International Linear Collider and other science-based initiatives.

Japan is a seismically active country, and earthquakes are just a fact of life here. While a natural disaster on the scale of the 2011 earthquake is said to be something that happens once a millennia, it’s a good idea to know what happened to be prepared in the future. We can’t forget that day, and the tragedy it brought. But we can teach others how to prepare.

As an aside, I do want to be clear that the granite bedrock in the Kitakami mountains site is stable enough that even a 9.0 earthquake does little effect. A pre-existing scientific facility in a tunnel in the mountains (the Esashi Earth Tides Station) reported absolutely no damage done from the quake, and the ILC will be built to the same such specifications.

The day of the earthquake and tsunami

March 11, 2011. 2:46 pm. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake strikes off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture, producing a tsunami that hits the northeastern coast of Japan.


Click to enlarge

The major characteristic of this disaster was that it was three-pronged: the earthquake, the tsunami, and the accident it caused at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Iwate’s Reconstruction

Iwate established its reconstruction plan in August 2011 for an eight year period until 2018. The plan set up a 3-year setup phase, a 3-year focused reconstruction phase, and a 2-year connection phase for further development. Currently, Iwate is at peak operations – they have the most projects going on at one time.

Even though the reconstruction has been progressing at a steady pace, there are still over 22,000 people living in the temporary housing units set up after the disaster or in other accommodations. We still have a lot of work to do for our recovery. Right now the prefecture and municipal governments are busy with constructing 5,771 units of permanent public housing for the survivors, with around 90% to be finished within the 2016 fiscal year.


As we try to move the survivors to permanent housing as quickly as possible, we must also think about how to best support individual survivors. How do we ease their physical and mental burdens arising from a long period in temporary housing? How do we foster a sense of community at the new housing complexes? How do we calm their fears of the future? Mental care centers have been set up to send staff throughout the region, and we must continue to think about these issues.

Achievements of the reconstruction

In the five years post-disaster, Iwate has accomplished a lot:

・All of the disaster debris (over 61 million tons) was completely cleaned up and cleared out by March 2014

・All lines of the Sanriku Railway, a railroad that traverses the coast of Iwate were back up and running by April 2014. The Sanriku Railway is also taking over ownership of the JR train line between Miyako and Kamaishi (central to southern coast), and once the line is rebuilt there will be a network of trains that will take you from Kuji City in north Iwate to Ofunato City in the south. (close to 160 km!)

・Damaged fish markets and most of the schools have reopened; hospitals and areas of commerce are all being rebuilt.

・In 2014, visits to major tourist destinations reached 104% of levels seen before the disaster.

・As of December 2015, 48% of permanent public housing (2,748 units) have been completed, with the rest to be finished by 2018.

・A new network of “reconstruction roads” is in the process of being built, including the Sanriku Coastal Road, a huge stretch of highway that will connect the northern coast to the southern coast. Some of the sections are now in-service.

One of the biggest feats of the reconstruction has to be the Bridge of Hope in Rikuzentakata City (southern coast). This massive belt conveyor was constructed to transport soil from the nearby mountains to the city center, where they are raising the ground level for new construction. It would have taken almost 10 years for large trucks to carry this amount of dirt, but with the Bridge of Hope, it was completed in around a year and a half. Its purpose was completed in September 2015, and preparations have started to dismantle it.

・Many more projects are happening at this moment. You can learn more by checking out the “IWATE: Moving Towards Reconstruction” pamphlet created by our Bureau of Reconstruction.

However, even though fish catch levels have recovered to about 80% of the levels seen before the disaster, the recovery of the fishing industry has been lagging. Fishing has long been the staple business of the coast of Iwate, but it’s tough to find young, able-bodied people available to work. Securing workers and financial capital for the reconstruction is still of the utmost importance. The area was struggling even before the disaster, so much work is left in order to improve its economy.

New developments for Iwate, and a new Sanriku Coast

The driving force behind our reconstruction is the fundamental strength of the people of Iwate, as well as the bonds we have forged with the rest of Japan and the world. Reconstruction means we’re not going to let our homeland be erased. We need the reconstruction to be an impetus in developing the local region – to make a Sanriku coast and Iwate Prefecture that are even stronger than before.

This is the aim of the Sanriku Creation Project, a collection of initiatives that will maximize the potential of Sanriku’s unique environment. The International Linear Collider and other international research exchanges fall under this project, but there are also park projects (like the Sanriku Geopark and Reconstruction Memorial Parks), eco-town projects using renewable energy, and development of an Iwate-sourced cobalt alloy called “Cobalion ©” and other high-tech materials.

That returns us to the ILC. The search for the Higgs boson and other mysterious particles will have numerous benefits for particle physics and mankind, but it will also be a boon to all of Tohoku that is rebuilding from the disaster. If the ILC is built here, the collider will stretch from Oshu and Ichinoseki inland to Kesennuma on the coast of Miyagi Prefecture. Parts will be shipped to harbors like the one in Kesennuma, and factories may be built in the surrounding areas. Existing companies are already attending events to learn how to get involved with accelerator-based industry. Current estimates have the ILC increasing employment throughout Japan by 250,000 during its thirty years of planned operations.

If the ILC is indeed hosted in the area, it will be a beacon of hope to the survivors on the coast, and a way for Iwate to give back to the world after it supported us during the disaster.

The coast of Iwate

The coast of Iwate

If you’d like to learn more about Iwate’s reconstruction and stay abreast of further updates, visit our English page:

News from Iwate’s Reconstruction

Pamphlet PDF: (2014) IWATE: Moving towards reconstruction







【上記の図 岩手県における被害状況 英語版】






・これらの他に、様々な取組が進んでいます。詳しくは、岩手県復興局が発行した「岩手 復興の歩み」をご覧ください。



これも、三陸地域の特性を最大限に生かす「三陸創造プロジェクト」の目的です。このプロジェクトの中に、ILCを含む国際研究交流拠点形成プロジェクトが入っているほか、三陸ジオパークや津波復興祈念公園の整備や、再生可能エネルギーを使うエコタウンの形成、 「いわて発」高付加価値コバルト合金(COBARION)などの開発の支援があります。



News from Iwate’s Reconstruction(英語版の復興だより)
Pamphlet PDF: (2014) IWATE: Moving towards reconstruction (「復興の歩み(2014年)」の英語版)