Central to this book is the horrific tsunami that destroyed Japan’s Sanriku Coast on March 11, 2011, with the author’s retirement town of Otsuchi presented in great detail as a microcosm of that event. The narrative, augmented by many photos and maps, provides geographical and historical context and reflects on its aftermath, loss of family members and home, mass funerals, cultural aspects, humanitarian efforts, and reconstruction plans.
The book begins with a brief introduction of the author and his immediate family to establish the inspiration for his retirement in the small port town of Otsuchi. This is followed by an overview of the situation at the time of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami, including a timeline of unfolding events in the form of edited emails in Chapter 1. After establishing Otsuchi’s geographic location, its pre-tsunami key districts and topography are presented together with a bit of historical perspective in Chapter 2. That chapter ends with the introduction of Tono, the nearest inland town, which becomes important as the family’s post-tsunami base of operations. Many photos and maps are included.
A sense of place and local relationships is then established through descriptions of the family home and neighborhood, illustrated with color photos, in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 goes on to describe the cultural fabric that further strengthens community relationships, including annual festivals and Buddhist rites for the dead (Obon). Color photos illustrate both festival action and the family’s Buddhist observances.
The narrative moves on in Chapter 5 to outline the history, scientific background, and details of past earthquakes and tsunami, and then describes the “Big One” of 2011 that destroyed Central Otsuchi and other coastal areas. Survival stories as well as explanations of why so many died are presented. Recounted, too, is the first-hand experience of an ocean conservation group, the Sea Shepherds. This is followed by descriptions of two videos of the disaster, one showing inundation of the part of town where family members were lost and the other of a burning Otsuchi. Maps, charts, figures, photos, and video links are included.
An overview of the tsunami’s aftermath provides descriptions of its effects on key locations and the humanitarian activities of volunteers in Chapter 6. This is followed in Chapter 7 by the author’s observations of the devastation in Otsuchi and surrounding areas as seen on visits seven weeks after the tsunami. It was the eerie silence of a dead town experienced during the first visit that inspired the author to relate this story. Color photos illustrate the narrative.
The more emotional section of the book, Chapter 8, describes the search for missing relatives, mass funerals for the dead and missing, flowers reappearing amid the ruins, identification of a family member’s remains, interment of ashes, and the 2011 Buddhist commemoration of the dead. Color photos reflect the somber atmosphere.
Chapter 9 brings a lighter mood with descriptions of aid donations to the town from Otsuchi’s sister-city of Fort Bragg, CA, and humanitarian contributions in general as well as a Tokyo donation program that petered out. The Japanese custom of giving “condolence” money is clarified within its cultural context, followed by a related digression involving Hawaii.
The book concludes, in Chapter 10, with an outline of the master plan for the reconstruction of Otsuchi and resurrection of the town’s businesses in the face of ongoing depopulation. Included is a critique of the Japanese government’s response to the disaster as well as comments on the local media. The author ends the book with his thoughts on future possibilities for revitalizing the town.