News

Rebuilding Japan

The Asian nation continues to recover one year after a destructive earthquake and tsunami

March 12, 2012
YURIKO NAKAO—REUTERS

On March 10, 2012—the day before the one-year anniversary of Japan's most powerful earthquake on record—a woman wearing a mask looks at paper lanterns created at a memorial for the victims of the disaster, in Koriyama, Fukushima, in Japan.

On March 11, at 2:46 p.m., people across the nation of Japan paused for a moment of silence, prayer and reflection. The time marked exactly one year since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the Asian country, triggering a massive tsunami and nuclear crisis. In Rikuzentakata, a siren sounded at exactly 2:46 p.m., and a Buddhist priest rang a huge bell at a temple overlooking the damaged town. At the seaside town of Onagawa, people faced the ocean and held hands in silent prayer. In Ishinomaki—the worst-hit town with 3,576 residents lost—survivors lit around 2,000 candles to mourn for the victims. Some used the anniversary as a time for closure. “Until today, I was not able to accept the reality,” said Tamiko Oshimizu, who lost relatives in the tsunami. “But today, I’m going to face it and move on.”


Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Nodo bows his head near an altar during the national memorial service for the victims of Japan's earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2012.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO—AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Nodo bows his head near an altar during the national memorial service for the victims of Japan's earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2012.

In the past year, some affected areas have been cleared or rebuilt, but much damage remains. At the national memorial ceremony, in Tokyo, Japan, that marked the one-year anniversary, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda pledged to rebuild the island nation so it will be “reborn as an even better place.”


A Devastating Disaster


The 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck Japan on March 11, 2011. The center of the quake was located about 17 miles beneath the ocean floor, in a spot 80 miles off the eastern coast of the island nation. But the tremors were felt even 230 miles away in Tokyo, Japan’s capital. The quake was the most powerful temblor to hit Japan since officials there began keeping records 140 years ago. Japan lies on the "Ring of Fire"—an area rimming the Pacific Ocean. About 90 percent of the world's earthquakes take place in that region. The 9.0-magnitude quake ranks as the fourth largest quake in the world since 1900, scientists say.


The earthquake set off a tsunami with waves three stories high. Entire cities were swept away. The disaster killed more than 19,000 people. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses were ruined. Adding to the devastation, damage at Japan’s Fukushimi Daiichi power plant caused some radiation to leak out. Radiation is energy that can be harmful at high levels. People fled their homes to avoid exposure.


This image of two photos shows the same location in Kesennuma, Japan. Above, a woman surveys the earthquake's damage on March 17, 2011. Below, the same location is seen rebuilt on March 8, 2012, nearly one year later.
CHRIS MCGRATH—GETTY IMAGES

This image of two photos shows the same location in Kesennuma, Japan. Above, a woman surveys the earthquake's damage on March 17, 2011. Below, the same location is seen rebuilt on March 8, 2012, nearly one year later.

A Nation Rebuilds


In the days and months that followed, Japan Self-Defense Forces, aid workers and hundreds of thousands of volunteers from all over the world came to help the country recover and rebuild. But there is still work to be done. Today, about 325,000 people remain in temporary housing. While much of the nearly 23 million tons of debris has been gathered into piles, only 6 percent has been disposed of through incineration. Japan must rebuild dozens of coastal communities, shut down the ruined power plant and make the radiated land livable again.


The Japanese government also promised to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear power. Before the disaster, it supplied about 30 percent of the nation’s energy. Japanese Emperor Akihito spoke at the national memorial ceremony. "We shall not let our memory of the disasters fade,” Akihito said. “[We shall] pay attention to disaster prevention and continue our effort to make this land an even safer place to live.”


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