Students and faculty from foreign universities visit areas affected by the disaster – Experiences of the APRU Summer School – (Vol. 31, Part 1)

On Thursday, July 21, as part of the APRU Summer School, hosted by IRIDeS, approximately 40 university students and faculty visiting IRIDeS from overseas went on a field visit to the cities of Natori and Tagajo, both affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. This article is a report of this field visit written by a member of the IRIDeS Public Relations Office who accompanied the tour.


What is APRU? What is the Summer School?

Associate Professor Takako Izumi

APRU is the abbreviation for the Association of Pacific Rim Universities. The organization was established in 1997, aiming to foster cooperation among leading research universities in the region, not only in research but also to resolve issues of major importance to the Pacific Rim community, such as disaster risk reduction, economic development, and population ageing.


As of today, APRU consists of 45 universities in 16 regions; in Japan, a total of six universities, including Tohoku University, University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, and Osaka University, are members of the association.


As part of the APRU program, IRIDeS has hosted the Summer School in July every year, in which graduate students and faculty from foreign countries come to learn about the lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and international DRR strategies.


This event has been mainly organized by Associate Professor Takako Izumi. It is highly appreciated for its rich content, and was held for the fourth time.


Field Visit   Morning: Natori City

Participants departed from Sendai City at 8:30 in the morning by bus, arriving in Natori City. Mr. Hitoshi Miura, Chief of Reconstruction and Land Reallocation Section from the Natori City Office became the guide, explaining in detail about the City of Natori, the situation during the disaster, and reconstruction process in the bus.


On the day of the disaster, Natori was impacted by an earthquake with a seismic intensity of six upper on the Japanese scale, and the first wave of the tsunami reached the city about one hour after the earthquake. In particular, the Shimomasuda and Yuriage areas near Sendai Airport were heavily damaged. A total of 923 people lost their lives, 39 people are still missing, and 1,849 people are still living in temporary housing (as of June 27).


Mr. Miura explained about the project where the ground level is being raised to form a residential district, how the Sendai Tobu Road was effective against tsunamis, and that the main road Miyagi Prefectural Shiogama-Watari Line was heavily congested right after the disaster, causing many loss of lives, as they were swallowed by the tsunami on their cars. His descriptions were specific, pointing at the exact point from the window of the bus.


Mr. Hitoshi Miura

During the visit, the participants got off the bus to see Hiyoriyama hill and the memorial monument.


As the tsunami has left, and the debris has been removed, it is now difficult to imagine how it was during the disaster. However, with the explanation, “The height of the monument built just beside Hiyoriyama is the same as the height of the tsunami,” we looked at the stone monument higher than the summit of Hiyoriyama, and imagined how it was when Hiyoriyama was engulfed completely by the muddy water of the tsunami.


Climbing up Hiyoriyama

Memorial monument (height of the monument is the same as the height of the tsunami)

Then the participants moved to see the Kitakama sea wall, and the Suzuki residence, a private home which the remains have been preserved as a disaster memorial. Detailed explanations were made by Mr. Miura on these sites as well.

Kitakama sea wall

Suzuki residence, a disaster memorial

Mitazonokita housing complex Lunchtime

To end the tour of Natori City, we visited Mitazonokita housing complex, where disaster public housing has been built. Citizens who lived near the coast and lost their homes due to the tsunami have relocated collectively. There are apartments and houses, and a total of 162 households have already moved to the area.


After being explained about the housing complex, the participants asked various questions, such as how the residents are earning their living now, and how heavily damaged the area was just after the disaster.   


Mr. Miura answered them in detail, for example, “Before the disaster, many people were engaged in farming, but as their houses became far from their farmland, there are cases where they had to retire, or rent their farmland.”  


Also, we heard that “This area was flooded during the disaster, but as public housing was constructed after raising the land level for two meters, it will not be flooded even when hit by a tsunami the same level as the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.”


Afterwards, we moved to a restaurant in Arai, Sendai City, for lunch.    


At the table the writer took lunch, two faculty members from the Philippines (specializing in geography and geology), and a student from Myanmar (now studying in Kyoto University and is aiming to work in the field of DRR education) exchanged ideas on disasters and DRR.


While taking lunch, made mainly by locally produced vegetables, though in a friendly atmosphere, the members engaged in serious discussions of great interest, including experiences of each country, such as why damages of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines were so extensive, and how to hand down the memories of disasters.




For further information or questions, please contact IRIDeS Public Relations Office:

+81-22-752-2049 or koho-office*

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