As part of filming for Football, Take Me Home, we visited the town of Minamisanriku. This quiet coastal town an hour from the centre of Sendai would seem to most of us who live the busy city life as the ideal retreat. Small bars and restaurants, cottages, tidy gardens and fishing boats bobbing up and down in the harbour.
On 11th March 2011, a wall of water three stories high, travelling at the speed of a jet airliner swept through Minamisanriku, taking everything in it’s path. The valley in which the town sat, acting as a funnel for the power of the tsunami sending it further and further inland. By the time the waters receded, only 9,700 of the 19,000 residents were confirmed as alive.
The coastal part of the town is now uninhabitable as the land has dropped by several metres toward the coast, meaning that the sea water level is now above most of the low-lying houses – whose frameworks jut from the soil like ancient ruins or collapsed tombs. Far from destroying the town however, the surviving residents have rallied and formed into collective groups to promote the area.
Farmers markets and a visitor village sell local produce to the many Japanese and foreign visitors that come to Minamisanriku to pay their respects. There is also a program of oral history events, in which survivors share their stories. They proudly wear t-shirts emblazoned with the words ‘Minamisanriku – Never Die’ and you know they mean it.
This area will live on. Not just in memory of those who died, but also for the benefit of the living. Somehow, it felt like that’s exactly the way it should be. We’ll post some of the individual stories we heard later, but visiting Minamisanriku is an experience that will live with us all for the rest of our lives.