On a cold December day, in 2011 my friend and colleague Hiroshi Ota took me to see Shibitachi. We took the train from Tokyo and rented a car in Ichinoseki, inland. Driving to the coast, weathered signs started to appear on the roadside: がんばって東北 ‘stay strong Tohoku’ but all else was the same, no damage to be seen. Until after a few hours drive we came to Kesennuma, the road leading further down to the coast, suddenly we were in the vast emptiness of a city that had been swept away, where everything was gone and rubble the only visible thing as far we could see.

Descending through steep mountain roads arriving in Shibitachi we stood at what used to be the edge of the land and now was water in the last light of the short winter day. The air was incredibly crisp and cold and as we saw this landscape I had a sense of immense disbelief of how both the sublime beauty and the raw destruction was right before and around me.

Much later I read Hiroshi Naito’s essay ‘From Protoform to Protoscape’ where Naito describes his first encounter of the devastation in Rikuzentakata in April 2011:

“With this landscape before me, I felt something like a divine revelation, inexpressible in words. Even now I cannot explain it. The landscape forbade any half-considered thoughts or sentiments, and forbade any words at all. After this, everything would change – the way we see our country, the way we see our lives, and the way we see the architecture that has structured our world. After this, it could only change.”

It can only change. This is why I thought of ‘after’landscape.

whys landscape matters for tohoku14
Shibitachi, December 2011

afterlandscape is documenting ongoing research and workshops between a growing and fluctuating network of people:  Hiroshi Ota, Professor Christian Dimmer, Professor Yu Nakai, Professor Emeritus Hiroshi Naito, Professor Masao Hijikata, Dr. Toshihiko Abe, Dr. Barbara Hartley, Dr. Akihiro Nakamura, Professor Kenichiro Yanagi, and Landscape Architects Shunsuke Hirose, Michio Tase, activists Hiroko Otsuka, Keiko Sugawara, Masahito Abe, Shintaro Suzuki and many more.

afterlandscape is a project by Marieluise Jonas.

day 01 definition of genba
Documentation of Day 01 of the 2016 Living with the Sea Seminar in Kesennuma. This whiteboard was made by Takahashi san, social innovator who “turned up” and did this!

2011 – 2012 Shibitachi Minato Machizukiri Hyakunenkai – Rebuilding Shibitachi

Shibiatchi is the site of a joint design research project undertaken by Hiroshi Ota Lab at Institute of Industrial Science at the University of Tokyo and Marieluise Jonas RMIT University, who is a research fellow at Ota Lab. Shibiatchi a 450 year old small fishing village is situated approximately 12 km east from Kesennuma City, approximately 500km north of Tokyo. Two years after the Tsunami Shibitachi now stands for countless villages in Tohoku that are struggling to cope with the standstill situation in rebuilding economy and infrastructure.

Since June 2011 Ota Lab Tokyo University has been involved with a number of machizukuri (lit. town making) workshops. These workshops are conducted with members of the community and work as a bottom up approach to rebuilding the village’s road and port infrastructure as well as public amenities.
Key tasks of the project team have been so far to generate new map data, specifically terrain data and topography maps. Only very little topographic data existed previous to the earthquake which now has become unusable. Further, the design of evacuation routes is a key project now underway. Steep and narrow slopes proved as a trap for the mainly elderly population in the tsunami.
In 2012 a RMIT University Landscape Architecture Design Studio was investigating strategies for a 100 year plan that takes socio-cultural aspects as a driver for regional regeneration.

Shibitachi Village
The village is part of Kesennuma-shi city. Recovery projects are led through the local machizukuri council. Shintaro Suzuki (Kodate-san) one of the village elders, owner of the Kodake estate and fisherman is leading the council.
The Kodate estate has been subject to research prior to the Tsunami, due to its long history (approx.. 400 years). It has been designed to function as emergency shelter and is equipped with a large iron vessel for boiling water to cook rice. This pot has been used in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami as well as in prior tsunami disasters.
The main source of income in the village is fishery: Tuna and Oysters. Many of the fishermen have been on tour to overseas fishing grounds such as Australia and New Zealand.

2013 Shibitachi Hyakunenkai – Where to from now?

Currently, the village is presented with a sole recovery option that does not consider the impact on economy and local culture and does not present a sustainable design outcome for the village: a 200m long and 9.9m tall seawall.

The prefectural government plan foresees to build a 9.9m tall seawall that would destroy the natural coastline – a key asset for tourism – and disrupt the natural connection between sea and land, thereby jeopardizing the mayor income for the village – fishing and Oyster farming.

To offer support, our project aims to inspire the local community in producing alternatives to the one-fits-all solution that take local culture and the natural environment into account in a holistic and sustainable design solution for rebuilding the village in a bottom up machizukuri process. In presenting a diversity of ideas it is hoped that the village community will be inspired to oppose the seawall.

A one-day community forum workshop was held in Shibitachi in October 2013, bringing local and international experts together with the local community. The experts were asked to present their vision for a sustainable reconstruction of the village infrastructure from a landscape architectural perspective that takes natural systems fully into account and addresses the possible future through conceptual and concrete examples.
Currently, the community is affected by “recovery planning fatigue”. The expert workshop brought new perspectives and renewed international exposure to the community.


In 2014, Shibitachi had no seawall. It is unclear what the future for Shibitachi is.


2014 Kesennuma – Seawall futures?

In 2014 the research focus has shifted to a larger regional approach. Kesennuma-shi is the regional municipal unit which includes Shibitachi and Karakuwa peninsula.

A group of RMIT Landscape Architecture, Architecture and Urban Design students traveled to Kesennuma in July 2014.


2015 Kesennuma Living // Sea

Living with the sea. Without question the future is set by this task. Now in the 4th year the project evolves to grapple with realizing spatial manifestations of this task.

2016 Kesennuma Living with the Sea Open Seminar

Kesennuma Future Proofing Seminar: 29.-31. January 2016

The open seminar brought people back together and I feel privileged to have been invited into the discussions, have been shown the seawalls and helped to see the ideas that are emerging form the people in Kesennuma.

Key moments were meeting Keiko Sugawara who came to my pension room to have a meeting and gave me her research folio of seawalls being currently constructed.


On the third day Hiroko took us to her home in Maehama and led us to a beach to search for treasures. Later in the afternoon I exchanged facebook messages with Masahito Abe where we shared our photos of the treasures we had found.

Later, his son took me to the side and said in English to me: “you know we don’t need to be rescued?” I know – but maybe we do.


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