Japan tour sees slow recovery, fragile economy

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Sep 21 2012 07:58:28 AM HST
Updated On: Sep 21 2012 09:55:24 AM HST

A dozen Hawaii volunteers help to rebuild a town in Japan after the 2011 tsunami.

HONOLULU -

“I remember seeing a huge wave going through this valley and completely submersing the city in water,” said Christine Hitt, who is a web editor for Honolulu Magazine.
 
Millions of views and more than a year later, the video of the massive wave washing over the Tohoku region town of Minamisanriku is still stunning.
 
“You can see that there was a town there, but its not there any more,” she said.

Hitt was one of a dozen from Hawaii that went to see what's changed and what happened to the people left behind.
 
“For me it was about listening and now sharing,” said Hitt.

KITV visited the same town a month after the disaster, and it was devastation and debris for as far as the eyes could see.

But now, the earth is scraped clean in that area, but for a building or two.

“I saw how bad it was,” said Shinji Wabiko, a manager with tour company H.I.S.
 
H.I.S. is headquartered in Japan, but has long-standing offices in Hawaii. The company wanted the people of Hawaii who have been so supportive and so giving to Japan to see, to not forget and to help them rebuild one gift, one meal and one purchase at a time.
 
“We bought a lot of these when we visited,” said Hitt, pulling out some colorful aprons made from kimono material.
 
“They lost everything, their homes and businesses, so they have nothing to do. Those who survived are trying to recover,” said Wabiko.
 
“It’s not volunteers they need to clean up, it’s more that they need money to get back to where they were,” said Hitt.

The group visited a school in Ogawa. 70 children died there that day.

They visited a town center in Minamisanriku. Only the few that climbed the antenna survived.

And they visited a beach. The area is still pristine, and the sand is still filled with debris.

“There was so much debris on that beach, even though it was so tiny,” said Hitt.

The people there are trying, she said, but it's been so hard. Still, you see there is progress -- big and small. And visitors such as Hitt now know, too, they will never forget.

“Nothing compares to being there,” she said.

The survivors still living there told the group that every building, every house is considered temporary.

The earthquake before the tsunami caused the ground to drop nearly 20 feet in towns such as Minamisanriku.

Townsfolk told the group the government is planning to come in and fill the entire valley to raise it back up to where it was. Next, comes a new wall. Only then can survivors begin in earnest to rebuild. 

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