The Shinkansen bullet train runs from Tokyo to Sendai, the region’s largest city. Local bus and train services connect onwards to Onagawa via Ishinomaki. Inside Japan’s Northern Soul 14night package includes a visit to the region and a guided tour of the former disaster area by a local survivor. More: insidejapantours.com. Nearby Ishinomaki is the better option for accommodation, as many hotels and ryokan have reopened there since the disaster. Family-owned Kikuchi Ryokan, rebuilt after 2011, provides warm, Tohoku-style hospitality in hotel-style or traditional guestrooms. More: kikuchiryokan.com. • jnto.org/au traced over older, overgrown footpaths, lined with Shinto shrines placed long ago to appease those capricious wind and water gods who both threaten and protect fishermen.
From the hushed, cedar-covered summit we can hear the earthmovers clearing and terracing hillsides for new housing at safer elevations, well above sea level. This enormous project has delayed the town’s return to life.
Like thousands who lost their homes, Fujinaka has been consigned to a cramped emergency housing unit since the tsunami, though his own plot of land is finally ready for building. He has mixed feelings about the tourist-oriented Onagawa that seems now to be taking priority, but he understands the thinking.
“Before the disaster, this was an old town, for old people,” he says. “I’m old too, but I know we need more young people to survive.” He is less sure that Onagawa actually needs a hip-hop venue such as Bar Sugar Shack, or a craft beer bar, but he’s willing to give them a try.
We end the day in Garuya Beer Bar with pints of Onagawa Ale. The evening rolls on, and the place fills up with a cross-section of the post-tsunami community. Fujinaka knows many of these town planners, fishing boat owners and geriatric care workers from the hospital up the hill. Others are strangers, shoppers, sightseers, happy to be here and keen to mingle.
We talk about the beer, the weather, Donald Trump. We toast to new homes and beginnings. There’s a lot of laughing, and no mention of the tsunami.