As I relate in my Watson Returning Fellows’ Conference post, I visited Kumamoto, the epicenter of Japan’s huge earthquakes in mid-April, about three weeks into their rebuilding process. Rather than burying pictures at the bottom of that post, I wanted to dedicate a separate space to pictures from my meanderings around the city. First, an excerpt from the aforementioned post:
May 9, 2016, Yokohama, Japan
…[M]y visit to Kumamoto, the epicenter of Japan’s huge earthquakes three weeks ago in mid-April, was so powerful. It reflected the reality of a Japan where rebuilding is a common event, where resilient infrastructure has innumerable value. The earthquake had caused major power cuts, gas leaks, and water shortages in Kumamoto, and train and plane services to Kumamoto were stopped for a while. Since Kumamoto is on the Japanese island of Kyushu, it was then basically isolated form the mainland. The rebuilding was well underway by the time I visited – the utilities were back and train services had been restored a few days before my visit – but there was still a lot to do. As I walked around the city, I saw many modern buildings with visible cracks in their foundations, shattered windows, or red “unsafe” inspection signs. I saw older houses, small cottages with grass roofs, caved in like crushed cake frosting. I saw trash piled up three weeks deep, a mix of normal waste and cleanup debris that the city trash services simply couldn’t handle.
To me, though, what was more interesting than observing the infrastructure was observing the people. I saw community. I saw volunteers in the city center serving food. I saw trash trucks from other cities including Kyoto, sent by these other cities to help clean up. I saw temporary vendors in a main market, presumably set up there because their normal buildings were unfit for use. The result was a juxtaposition of permanent shops, closed-off buildings, and stalls with cardboard boxes piled behind them. In this market, I saw lots of people walking around, hanging out, shopping. They were smiling, socializing, and coming together as a community… I saw a city moving on and moving forward.
And now, some pictures:
The approximate loop I walked around Kumamoto, between Kumamoto Station and Kumamoto Castle.
Fallen tōrō (decorative stone lantern) at a Kumamoto shrine.
Kyoto’s sanitation (?) department lending a hand. In the back, a taped-up building.
There were pieces of blue tarp everywhere, signaling structural damages.
Some street views were astonishingly normal, a testament to Kumamoto’s rebuilding. The tram and bus services were up and running by the time I visited three weeks after the quake.
More blue tarp == more structural damage.
There were high piles of trash everywhere.
Damage on the street.
A red “unsafe” inspection sign.
A fallen old-style Japanese building, with the nearby section of street taped off.
Debris on the street, fallen from the roof overhead.
Many large apartment buildings had their windows taped up, I believe for structural support.
Green “inspected” sign, indicating the building is safe.
A tented area in the middle of Kumamoto, which I believe was providing food to those in need.
Delivery of supplies to the tented area by a Coca Cola truck.
The market in the city center was bustling, and I felt an overwhelming sense of community and moving on. There were many temporary stalls, I presume from displaced vendors.
A temporary market stall from a (presumably) displaced vendor. Behind the counter are dollies stacked with cardboard boxes, and the stall itself is selling fragile kitchenware such as plates and tea kettles.
Structural damage near Kumamoto Castle. An old-style Japanese house fallen from the top of a hill, and a lower-level house with blue tarp on the roof.
Many locals were taking pictures of the damage near Kumamoto Castle.
More structural damage near Kumamoto Castle, in the form of fallen/damaged statues and monuments.
There were many cracked sidewalk tiles.
A man sleeping on a bench near Kumamoto Castle. I had no way of knowing whether he’d been displaced from his accommodation or whether he was just taking a nice afternoon nap in a public space (the later isn’t uncommon in Japan).
Kumamoto Station’s escalator was not yet working the day I walked around.
Kumamon, Kumamoto Prefecture’s giant happy bear mascot, brightening up the train station. He was my comforting companion on an otherwise sobering day.