The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

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: in­sid­e­japan­ 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: • 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.


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