Tohoku and 3/11: Looking Back and Ahead

Five years go, I was sitting in my kitchen in Okinawa, playing cards with a friend while my infant daughter slept at our feet, when the messages started coming through:

“Are you alright?” “Oh my word, how devastating!” “Is everything ok????” “PLEASE tell us you’re alright.”

They had every reason to be concerned. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake had struck the Tohoku region in northern Japan. The massive event led to an equally, horrifyingly, devastating tsunami. In all, over 15,000 people would lose their lives and an additional 2,572 would never be found. Thousands were injured and many more were displaced.

And sitting in my kitchen in Okinawa, a thousand kilometers removed from the region, I had felt nothing.

While 3.11 didn’t affect me physically, the event has indeed shaped my time in Japan and – on a far greater level – has shaped the discourse of the nation as a whole in the subsequent years. Debates still rage over how to rebuild the region or whether to abandon nuclear power or not, while nuclear waste still continues to leak slowly into the sea from TEPCO’s crippled reactor in Fukushima Prefecture. NGOs still seek support for the homeless, the displaced, the innumerable affected by this tragedy. The word Tohoku itself still carries with it a shadow, one that may be permanent, at least for several generations.

This is not an issues blog. This is a travel blog. I won’t declare which side of the fence on which to sit (or on which I sit) on certain issues, but I will share Tohoku with you in the way that it has personally impacted me – through travel.

For the past two summers, my family and I (joined sometimes by good friends) has traveled through a good portion of the Tohoku region. I have found it fascinating, beautiful, unexpected and delicious. Tohoku doesn’t make it onto many travel itineraries, especially for first time visitors to Japan. I understand. This beautiful country has TOO much to see. 🙂

But I hope that this post – and these photos – may change your mind. Perhaps they encourage you to make your own personal pilgrimage to the north. Perhaps they show you a side of Japan you didn’t know about. If nothing else, they have made you stop and spare a thought for Tohoku today. And I thank you for that. Because the worst thing that can happen with so much left to be done is for us to forget.


Tohoku (4)
A Nebuta float in Aomori
Tohoku (6)
Iced coffee and the local specialty of apple pie in Hirosaki


Tohoku (1)
Akita Kanto Matsuri
Tohoku (2)
A garden in the samurai town of Kakunodate


Wildflowers on Mt Hachimantai


Ginzan Onsen
Tohoku (3)
Yamagata-style soba


Tohoku (7)
Tanabata streamers in Sendai
Tohoku (5)
A view from the peak of Mt Zao

2 thoughts on “Tohoku and 3/11: Looking Back and Ahead

Add yours

  1. Thank you for this post. I was reminded today by a woman who still lives in temporary housing that it means so much to those who were directly affected by the disaster that we not forget what happened that day. Thank you for remembering and sharing. And yes, Tohoku is beautiful!

    1. Thank you for your comments, Melissa. It can be so easy to forget that those in the affected regions continue to struggle since we are not faced with the images on a daily basis. It sounds as if you’ve already experienced (or are experiencing) the beauty of Tohoku. I hope others will too!

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