Trip Tips: Japan's coastal Miyako city puts tsunami behind it

Fri Mar 6, 2015 5:14am EST
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By Elaine Lies

MIYAKO, Japan (Reuters) - Miyako in northeastern Japan was for decades a small coastal city, famed for the salmon that splashed upriver in the autumn and the succulent oysters gathered just offshore. Tourists came to fish, paddle kayaks in the bay and enjoy the scenic views.

Then came March 11, 2011. A powerful 9.0 offshore earthquake struck, sending massive waves hurtling up the coast and into its fjord-like bays and inlets.

The water slammed into Miyako, flooding the city hall, train station and much of the central business district, in some cases several storeys deep. Some of the most harrowing footage of the tsunami - a black wave carrying cars over a seawall, a fishing boat crushed beneath a bridge - was recorded in Miyako.

More than 600 people died and 6,000 buildings were destroyed in the city. Hundreds still live in temporary housing.

Four years on, Miyako is recovering, with tourist numbers back up and many former sites restored. New businesses have developed, and oyster floats once again criss-cross the bay, where kayakers mingle with sail boats.

Many obvious reminders of the tsunami have vanished in central Miyako.

Piers where person-sized chunks of concrete from ruined seawalls once lay scattered have been repaired. Boats chug out on fishing tours from picture-perfect harbors where nets and floats line the shores while kites shriek overhead.

But amid the noodle shops, karaoke pubs and grilled chicken restaurants are empty swathes that are unusual in densely populated Japan. Weeds darken the tiled floors and low concrete walls where houses once stood, and visitors can still spot remnants of metal railings bent and twisted like pretzels.   Continued...

A file combination photograph shows the same location on a street in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan on two different dates, March 11, 2011 (top) and February 17, 2012 (bottom). REUTERS/Miyako City Office/Handout via Reuters/Files