A Visit to the Tsunami Devastated Town of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan


The evening before my scheduled departure to visit the town of Ishinomaki at Miyagi Prefecture, I had a little scare at my hotel in Sendai. Another 5.6 magnitude earthquake has strikes the prefecture with its epicenter close to Ishinomaki.

Living almost more than a year in Japan, I was supposed to be immune to the frequent shakes. This might not be the right thing to say, but I was immune to the point that I sometimes sleep thru it and will only be awaken once my books started to fly out from the shelves. But an earthquake at the region heavily devastated by the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake, I was a bit shaken to the point that I wanted to run out of the hotel with my passport in hand.

I don’t intend to scare and to discourage you from visiting the country or the region because of this; in fact I encourage you. But I wanted to be honest and let you know that this is one of the things that you should be ready to experience.

The following day, I woke up to a bright, sunny morning, a good way of drowning whatever anxiety I felt last night. Following the helpful ladies instruction from the Sendai Tourist Information Desk, I went straight to bus station no. 33 and boarded the bus that will take me to JR Ishinomaki for a fee of 800 Yen only; from there, my real plan is to board another ferry that will take me to Tashirojima (Cat’s Island).

Arriving at Ishinomaki station, I was greeted by colorful drawings of manga series- Cyborg009.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

The town of Ishinomaki is also known as “Manga Town”, referencing to one of its homegrown talent, Shotaro Ishinomari. He is considered as one of Japan’s most influential manga/anime creator, creating not only Cyborg009 but the now popular Kamen Rider Series.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

I headed toward the Ishinomaki tourist information desk close to the station and asked for a map that will help me point exactly where the ferry station is. I was advised strongly to take a taxi but when I told them I have more than 3 hours spare prior the boat schedule departure time, they agree somehow that maybe I just better walk around.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

No English map is available but the helpful staff instruction is clear enough and navigating the town is easy, the statues of the cast of Cyborg009 manga series are spread across town, serving not only a fun decoration but a helpful guide too.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

Within the vicinity of the train station, there is no immediate trace of the earthquake tragedy unless if you look down, few cracks and a crooked street. According to reports, the March 11 combined earthquake and tsunami tragedy has sank the town elevation by 4 feet down.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

Walking straight, I reached the port area and the first thing that I saw was a UFO shape building. The building is called Ishinomari Manga Museum (Ishinomari Manggatan Museum), as the name suggests dedicated to the works of Shotaro Ishinomari.

This particular area was badly damaged by the tsunami being situated close to the Kitakami River, including the museum and the bridge besides it; both are now almost completing renovation.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

At the same river side opposite the manga museum, a small community market (Marche for the Recovery by the River of Ishinomaki) is built not only to serve as a place to sell local goods but to serve as a shelter for those who needed to find someone to talk too.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

Basing from the countless videos and pictures available on the web about the devastation caused by the tsunami, I was almost anticipating what I about to see, but nothing will prepare me when I stumbled upon an old family photograph lying outside one of the destructed homes.

I never touched this photograph or arrange them; it was lying there with a small flower on top of it, as if remembering lives once had.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

An enormous amount of sadness overwhelms me and the only release that I can do is to cry. Out of the many travels I’ve done in Japan, I can say that I know this Japanese family very well. I climbed the mountain with them, I boarded the bullet train with them, I did picnic under the Sakura tree with them and I cannot even imagine what might possibly happen to them. I wonder where are they now, what happen to them but I hope wherever they are they will find peace.

Continuing my walk on the same street, I saw several tsunami wrecked houses.

A dream house by the river built after years of hard work, a childhood lost, a promising new family life all gone in a matter of seconds.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

A small orange ribbon tied to a remaining tree branch at a barren land, where a home once stood and a life once had.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

Several broken plates on the floor, a reminder of a once popular restaurant by the river, where many town people had once spent a coffee break afternoon.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

A wooden boat washed ashore towards the residential area.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

One of the houses managed to pack up their stuff and on the door a maneki neko with a broken right paw was placed, on the prevalent hope that one day everything will be fine once again.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

After my trip to Tashirojima, I walked back from the ferry terminal to the train station by taking the same route. It was almost dark and the port side town is as equally quiet as it was in the morning.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

I despise the noise that the numerous crows flying in the area are making; they are giving the town an impression of so much sadness and grief. When the clock strikes 5pm, a lullaby sound was played across town, I was relieved for a moment not to hear the noise of the crows. I look up a bit and saw on one of the hospital, an old man standing in front of the window gazing at the river, I wonder what he was thinking.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

If I had any doubt on the number of the people living in the area, then the number of lighted windows gives an indication that many had decided to move out. There are some houses newly re-built or untouched by the tsunami, but the family decided to lock the doors and leave. I wonder if they did attempt to repair their homes on the hope of starting again but the painful memories cannot be overshadowed by a brand new flooring and the only way to move on is to move somewhere else.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

I never saw any kids on the street, which for me is the greatest irony of all, with Ishinomaki being a manga town surrounded by the ideas of fun and superheroes.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

Visiting Ishinomaki reminds me how humans are built to be resilient. No matter what tragedy we faced, we are bonded by the desire to recover, to live the life that we are bless and along the way to remember those we lost and what we have lost.

I saw a man cleaning up on one of the open lot where a house once stood.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

A boat named La Reconstruction for rent for visitors who want to tour around the coast.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

A man fishing at the river. Maybe, a past time he enjoyed before the tragedy and wanted to continue doing so.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

Business open as per usual.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

One of the several community center open to warmly welcome visitors for a cup of coffee and to have a chat on how to help on the recovery efforts.
ishinomaki (tsunami)
ishinomaki (tsunami)

Some might say that the town of Ishinomaki is a now a ghost town but I deferred to think that it is. I believe it is a town of memories, a town that once lost and one day a town of remarkable recovery.
ishinomaki (tsunami)

Someday I will come back. I am looking forward to enter the museum, to have a coffee at the port restaurant and a stroll afterwards. I wanted to see kids running around and to see families enjoying their Saturday. I know this is possible, one day it will happen. I am looking forward to it.

34 thoughts on “A Visit to the Tsunami Devastated Town of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan

  1. beautiful moving post…though the images may not be haunting, they do paint a painful picture of what mother nature can take away

    1. i agree with you..
      i’m not familiar with the manga Cyborg009 but basing on the town decorations must be one fun story to watch..
      hope one day the town can fully recover and the kids will start to enjoy the Manga Town all over again..

  2. Thanks for sharing these pictures! It’s encouraging to see that renovation is going smoothly but painful to see all those destroyed homes…

    1. thanks as well!

      I’m happy to see that the UFO shape Manga museum is almost completed including some of the major road works.
      above all, community centers are built for people just to hang out and talk what they feel like to.
      the town is still on the healing process but in due time i hope everything will be fine for Ishinomaki..

  3. Cognitive dissonance: scenes of immeasurable devastation, and a few meters away, life continues as usual.

    Your post is a powerful reminder of what used to be and will be again.

    1. thank you Jinn.. if you are planning a trip to Japan soon, kindly include Miyagi Prefecture/Tohoku Region in your plans 🙂

  4. I wanted to click the “like” button, but could not. I really did not like the tsunami or the devastation it caused. Nature at its worst and the destruction to the families who lived there. Sad.

    Hats off to you for going through the town, and filming it too. Thanks sharing what was the town, what it has become and what it can , in future. There is hope.

  5. This is such a poignant post for me. In a way, it’s very moving and beautiful at the same time -how you portrayed each photo. I particularly love the maneki neko. 🙂 I agree, these are photos to remember, good or bad memories and definitely NOT a ghost town. I would definitely visit this when (in the future) I visit Japan. Thank you for sharing these photos!

    1. thanks Sarah !
      i like the home with maneki neko too, it lifted my spirit when i saw it… a sign of hope, looking forward on good things to come 🙂

    1. thank you so much!
      up to these days, i can’t erase the memory of that family portrait i stumbled upon on one of the wrecked homes..

  6. I was googling some information about day-trips from Sendai and came stumbled on this blog entry. I very much enjoyed this post and now became inspired to include Ishinomaki on my 2013 spring trip to Japan. Thank you.

    1. thank you Marlene! thank you for including Tashirojima on your trip, I would recommend to visit some other parts of Tohoku Region too!
      spring, wow cherry blossom season, for sure you will have a grand time 🙂

  7. I intend to visit Ishinomaki and Tashirojima this November. After reading your article, I know I am going Ishinomaki and Tashirojima, for sure.
    Loss and despair filled your pictures. However I also sense and see recovery and hope. I am going there to with pessimism. Everything will make right, with time and perseverance.

    1. hi, looking forward hearing your stories on your coming visit.
      i hope there will be huge improvement and over-all sense of hope and recovery.

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