Japan Data

The State of Recovery in Tōhoku’s Disaster-Stricken Areas

Politics Economy

A look at current data on rebuilding efforts in Tōhoku and radiation monitoring and decontamination efforts in Fukushima Prefecture shows the extent of recovery five years after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Continued Uncertainty for 174,000 Evacuees

According to Reconstruction Agency figures, as of February 2016 approximately 174,000 people displaced by the Great East Japan Earthquake still live in temporary accommodations, including those residing with relatives or temporary prefabricated structures. More than half of evacuees, 98,000, are from Fukushima Prefecture.

Last year over 50,000 people moved into permanent housing. However, the uncertainty faced by those still living in provisional lodging continues to take a toll. Over the past year, the number of “disaster-related deaths”—fatalities indirectly caused by the disaster, including from suicide and deteriorating physical health brought on by living conditions—climbed by around 200.

2015 2016
Deaths* 15,894
Missing* 2,562
Disaster-related deaths† 3,194 3,407
Evacuees‡ Around 229,000 Around 174,000
Temporary housing units§ 87,635 65,704

* National Police Agency figures, as of February 1, 2016
† Reconstruction Agency figures, as of September, 2015
‡ Reconstruction Agency figures, as of February, 2016
§ Reconstruction Agency figures, as of January, 2016

Slow Progress in Replacing Lost Houses

The construction of public housing projects for disaster victims has gone a long way in reducing the number of people living in temporary accommodations. Work continues at a feverish pitch and to date 43% of planned units have been completed. Authorities, however, have struggled to make the same progress in rebuilding houses lost in the disaster. To date, only 20% of residential plots scheduled for development have been completed. Standing in the way is the challenge of finding suitable elevated land along the Sanriku coastline, an area known for its rugged terrain. Projects are crawling along, and in many cases can be expected to take up to three years.

Housing and Schools

2014 2015 2016
Public housing units for disaster victims 2% 15% 14,466 of 29,997 units built (49%)
Plots for private homes 6% 11% 6,534 of 20,338  finished (32%)
Schools 94% 96% 2,261 of 2,308  restored (98%)

Basic Infrastructure

2014 2015 2016
Seawalls 14% 21% 125 of 501 projects completed (25%)
National highways 99% 99% 1,159 of 1,161 kilometers built or restored (99%)
Railway 89% 91% 2,171.6 of 2,330 kilometers open for service (93%)

Agriculture and Fisheries

2014 2015 2016
Farmland 63% 70% 15,920 of 21,480 hectares open for cultivation (74%)
Fishing ports 37% 56% 233 of 319 rebuilt (73%)
Aquaculture 82% 89% 68,848 of 76,193 operations restarted (90%)

Source: Reconstruction Agency; figures are current as of late January, 2016.

Tourism Yet to Rebound

Tōhoku is known for its natural splendor, exceptional hot springs, and unique festivals. However, even as the number of international visitors to Japan has swelled over the last few years, the region has struggled to overcome images of the disaster and lure foreign tourists north to take advantage of the area’s abundant offerings.

Number of Overnight Bookings by Foreign Tourists, Pre- and Postdisaster

2010 2014 Percentage change
Nationally 26 million 42 million +61.70%
Tōhoku 510,000 350,000 –29.90%

Source: Reconstruction Agency figures

Fukushima: Lingering Effects of Nuclear Disaster

All or portions of nine municipalities near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station remain under evacuation orders due to high radiation readings from fallout following the meltdown at the plant.

The government has officially designated three areas in the evacuation zone: Area 1, in which evacuation orders are expected to be lifted; Area 2, in which residents are not permitted to live; and Area 3, where it is expected that residents will have difficulty returning for a long time. (These are shaded on official maps green, yellow, and pink, respectively.) In September 2015, four and a half years after the accident, authorities lifted the evacuation order in the town of Naraha south of the Fukushima Daini plant.

Decontamination Efforts Continue

According to prefectural government statistics, 43,000 of Fukushima’s approximately 98,000 evacuees currently reside in other prefectures. The prefectural and national governments combined have established 624 monitoring posts to collect data on airborne radiation levels at schools, parks, daycare facilities, and other locations in the prefecture. Over 300 of these give readings in real time and the prefecture makes measurements publicly available through an online radioactivity map.

Authorities have carried out decontamination in a bid to reduce airborne radiation, including cutting back foliage, pressure washing roofs of homes, and removing topsoil. The national government oversees work around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, while local municipalities look after their own decontamination operations.

As the graph below illustrates, decontamination in intensive contaminations survey areas has progressed but is not yet complete.

Minister for Reconstruction Takagi Tsuyoshi explained at a press briefing on February 23 that airborne radiation levels have dropped by around 65% compared to November 2011 through a combination of natural decay and decontamination efforts. He went on to say that as of November 2015, per-hour readings in the city of Fukushima, the prefectural seat, were at 0.19 microsieverts while those in the two most populous cities of Iwaki and Kōriyama were at 0.07 and 0.11 microsieverts respectively. Takagi stressed that readings were nearly the same as for other major cities around the world.

(Originally written in Japanese and published on March 2, 2016. Banner photo: A large banner in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, encourages local residents to keep forging ahead. A tsunami survivor set up the banner, which also serves as a memorial, on the empty lot of his home shortly after the disaster. Photo taken February 5, 2016.)

Tōhoku disaster housing Fukushima 3/11