Some things have changed, but many things have not
Teach311.org Multimedia Editor Ryuma Shineha contemplates the significance of the number 3 – three years, three focal prefectures with “3.11-related” statistics, and three disasters. This piece provides some insights into what three years of distance from “3.11” could mean. By juxtaposing a quantitative description of mortality with photographs that depict debris and a haunting absence of humans, save for the owner of the camera, Shineha’s 2014 photo essay (which also includes one photographic contribution from the director of Ishinomaki High School) invites readers to critically consider the values of such numbers that one may encounter when learning about disasters.

Text and photography by Ryuma Shineha
On March 11th in 2011, a huge earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and resulted in the creation of many victims. The earthquake and tsunami caused severe accidents at the Fukushima “Daiichi” (first) nuclear power plant (NPP). The impact and damages of these triple disasters, called “Higashi-Nihon-Daishinsai” or “3.11,” continue to this day. The strong earthquake brought forth a horrible tsunami disaster. The tsunami wiped out several hundred kilometers of coastline in towns of the Tohoku areas (Pictures 1 & 2). Picture 3 shows the collapsed building by tsunami in the town of Onagawa. Destroyed concrete buildings were often found in those areas. Concerning the causes of death, over 90 percent were caused by drowning, and about 65 percent of the victims were over the age of 60 (Cabinet Office, 2011). In addition, this tsunami also brought forth the severe NPP accidents. It was well known that a great number of residents had been forced to leave their houses due to the spread of radiation. As of the latest statics of the government at the end of June 2014, over 21,000 persons were dead or disappeared: there were 15,887 deaths, 3,089 were 3.11-related deaths, and 2,615 have disappeared 1. At the same time, over 250,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Japan 2. Three prefectures in particular—Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima—were the most affected (for example, deaths in Miyagi prefecture reached over 10,000). A summary of the number of victims, focusing on these three prefectures, appears in Table 1.
Iwate Miyagi Fukushima
Death 5,113 10,487 3,558
Human Disappeared 1,132 1,274 3
Damage Evacuee 34,662 88,736 126,889
(Evacuee to other prefectures) (1,441) (6,813) (45,279)
Collapse of buildings/houses Complete or Half 25,706 238,110 94,825
Table.1 Breakdown of damage 3

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Picture.1: Picture of flooded area in Ishinomaki-city(March 14, 2011, offered by Mr. Toru Suto)

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Picture.2: Picture of flooded area (a maritime area of the South-Soma city) (April 16, 2011)

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Picture.3: Collapsed building by tsunami in the Onagawa-town (November 18, 2011)

Evacuation zones were set up after the NPP accident and many people were forced to leave their towns, particularly in the Futaba-area in the Fukushima prefecture. The Namie-town is one of the towns which were established as a mandatory evacuation zone after the NPP accidents. The town became like a ghost town. The town became available for short-time stays since the April 2013. However, the level of damage varied among the affected regions.

Inside the town, buildings and houses destroyed by the strong earthquakes were left as is over three years. Although residents come to take care of their remained goods and memorized items, the town is empty (Picture 4). For some wooden old houses, destruction has been developed gradually according to time and their encroachment (Pictures 5 & 6). Picture 6 shows the entrance hall of the house of Picture.5. Its ceiling was fallen by the earthquake, and it became larger and larger according to time. Rains invaded inside house, and walls got moldy (Picture 7). In the coast area of the Namie-town, houses, cars, and bridges destroyed by tsunami also remained over three years (Picture 8 & 9).

Although three years had already passed at the time of this writing, these views continued. Mr. Toru Suto, who was the Director of Ishinomaki High School, said as “Already three years, still three years, only three years” 4. We should consider that the triple disasters as an ongoing disaster.

Picture.4: Namie-town collapsed by earthquake and isolated for NPP accident(March 2, 2014)

Picture.4: Namie-town collapsed by earthquake and isolated for NPP accident(March 2, 2014)

Picture.5: House collapsed by earthquake and isolated for NPP accident in Namie (March 2, 2014)

Picture.5: House collapsed by earthquake and isolated for NPP accident in Namie (March 2, 2014)

Picture.6: Entrance hall of the house collapsed by earthquake and isolated for NPP accident in Namie (March 2, 2014)

Picture.6: Entrance hall of the house collapsed by earthquake and isolated for NPP accident in Namie (March 2, 2014)

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Picture.7: Inner wall of the house became moldy (April 11, 2013)

Picture.8: The coastal area of the Namie (March 2, 2014)

Picture.8: The coastal area of the Namie (March 2, 2014)

Picture.9: Destroyed cars in the coastal area of the Namie (March 2, 2014)

Picture.9: Destroyed cars in the coastal area of the Namie (March 2, 2014)


  1. https://www.npa.go.jp/archive/keibi/biki/higaijokyo.pdf
    http://www.reconstruction.go.jp/topics/main-cat2/sub-cat2-1/20140527_kanrenshi.pdf
  2. http://www.reconstruction.go.jp/topics/main-cat2/sub-cat2-1/20140624_hinansha.pdf
  3. This table was generated based on the information by the Reconstruction Agency and local governments, which were released by the end of June 2014.
  4. http://synodos.jp/fukkou/7565
Photo Essay: Three years after 3.11

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