Today marks eleven years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and I want to write a bit about it. I have visited the area affected by the tsunami at least once a year since the disaster, mainly to visit jinja, and so I have seen the progress in rebuilding.
There has been a lot of progress. Transport links have been restored to almost all areas, and new homes have been built on higher ground to replace those destroyed by the tsunami. At many jinja, the initial rebuilding is complete and at some, like Kinkasan Koganëyama Jinja, much of the current repair work was occasioned by more recent typhoons and flooding.
However, the effects of the disaster are still very clear. There are a substantial number of jinja with new sanctuaries in new locations, and concerns about whether enough people will come back to live in the area. Some of the hamlets around the coast will simply disappear, and any jinja that they had will become non-viable. (Some may have already disappeared.) As always, people’s resilience is remarkable, but many of these communities were already suffering from an ageing population, and it is hard for a group of people, all of whom are over seventy, to rebuild their village from nothing.
Around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, things have been even slower. My understanding is that the last of the restrictions that were ever regarded as temporary have now been lifted, but work on repairing the damage from the disaster has only started in the last couple of years, and people who have rebuilt their lives in other areas do not find it easy to come back. Indeed, the people who do want to return are overwhelmingly retired, because those are the people who do not now have a job somewhere else.
I have read some of the things written by priests in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, and the impact on jinja has not been as bad as was feared. Even though there is no state support, private individuals and companies have offered a great deal. However, some jinja and some customs have been lost, and others are still trying to rebuild.
Large disasters, whether natural or man-made, have effects that persist long after they have left the headlines.