Before and After the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami
March 8, 2013 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Japan Earthquake, 2 Years Later
Collected below are a series of before-and-after interactive images. Click on each one to see the image fade from before (2011) to after (2013).
posted by mcstayinskool (24 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Inspiring and depressing at the same time.

Separate from the content, does anyone know how the after shots are so perfectly (more or less) matched to the original? Is this done with tethered shooting and transparent layers on a laptop? I've seen similar projects elsewhere and always wondered how it's done.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:10 PM on March 8, 2013

I was really not expecting how teary and hopeful these would make me. Thanks so much for this.
posted by KathrynT at 2:13 PM on March 8, 2013

One of the Atlantic commenters asks: "Where did they put all the stuff?"
posted by spitbull at 2:27 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's very striking how little has been rebuilt, though, especially the housing. Look at number 6, or example -- that clearly was a substantial town, and and now it's an empty plain studded with a handful of surviving buildings. Are they taking the route of buying out landowners and rebuilding the town higher up for flood protection, or were there just not that many survivors that wanted or were able to rebuild?
posted by tavella at 2:34 PM on March 8, 2013

Admiral Haddock: Well, they're not quite perfect. I would expect that for a lot of them there's an obvious place to stand - for instance, in #3, the photographer is probably on a patch of sidewalk or something rather than having to climb over a pile of unstable wreckage. #6 is at the top of a staircase. In any case it'd probably be quite possible to just go there with a print and the same lens, and over the course of a few shots get a similar result. It's likely that some of the newer shots were re-cropped afterwards to match the framing better.

I doubt they used a laptop and tripod just because that would be a big PITA.
posted by aubilenon at 2:34 PM on March 8, 2013

Man. I remember watching live when they were showing the wave front of the tsunami and the poor farmers were just running / driving, not nearly as fast as the tsunami. But there's something beautiful about Mother Nature, despite the devastation. Maybe I'm weird. I am a geology major after all.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:39 PM on March 8, 2013

Admiral Haddock -
Muscle memory is a funny thing. I was taking pictures at the local botanical garden's orchid show, and discovered that I took the same shot on two separate days a month apart. The only difference is the time of day. I'd imagine that if you were trying to do it, it'd be pretty easy.
To help, I'd get the image on the memory card of the camera, shoot a "close" shot, compare in playback mode, and try again, iterating to the best solution. I noticed on some shots, one or two signs are exactly perfectly in the same spot, but everything else is shifted a little; that's probably what happened.
posted by notsnot at 2:48 PM on March 8, 2013

Tavella, they probably don't need to rebuild because of the declining population.
posted by snofoam at 3:10 PM on March 8, 2013

In some cases communities have not been rebuilt because a) a lot of people died during the tsunami b) the tsunami destroyed industry, so there are no jobs and people moved away c) there is no access to capital to rebuild.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:42 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Anyway, a lot of people tut-tut about Japan's "lost decade" that has lasted twenty years and its declining birthrate, but looking at these before-and-after photos, it's not hard to imagine Japan doing just fine, thank you very much.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:43 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

So what is the technical secret to making these work? Ah. Don't click on the top image, it just links back to the page itself and will drive you fucking bonkers trying to figure out what the issue is.
posted by maxwelton at 5:38 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Still, a fascinating set of photos. I also wonder where all of the stuff went; that was one of my first thoughts when I saw the devastation--where can you dispose of that much junk?
posted by maxwelton at 5:44 PM on March 8, 2013

The last picture seems absolutely terrifying to me. Brings back the horror I felt when I was watching the tsunami live on tv. Still brings tears to my eyes.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 5:45 PM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another reason for the lack of rebuilding: not a lot of people want to live in those areas, and few young people lived there before the quake. Most of those small communities had been slowly dying for years. Many of the cities and towns that were wiped out are being, or will be, rebuilt as consolidated towns further from the coast line.

My Japanese friends on facebook were sharing a picture of a map of Japan, and (as far as I could tell) how much radiation has spread throughout the Kanto area, especially through waterways. It was eye-opening, and honestly, I'm glad I couldn't read much of what they had written. It's not surprising that, given a lack of clear, trustworthy information from the government, and the still-fresh memories of the tsunami, that people aren't rushing to rebuild in Tohoku.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:12 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The last picture seems absolutely terrifying to me.

I had a similar reaction. The water just seems so ominous now. If I had lived through it, I'm not sure I'd be able to live near water afterwards.
posted by dry white toast at 8:29 PM on March 8, 2013

It feels weird to see comments about places not rebuilding because here in Sendai there is so much construction, but it makes sense if the towns were already underpopulated.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:41 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The empty fields were what really got me. I mean, even if things were growing... but it just seems so barren.
posted by maryrobinette at 8:56 PM on March 8, 2013

I also wonder what they did with the stuff. That was a lot of plastic and metal and toxic stuff.
posted by fshgrl at 12:29 AM on March 9, 2013

The debris has (mostly) been sorted using the same machinery found at your local recycling company (conveyor belts, automated sorters, human labourers), notably to find human remains, but also to sort out wood, metal and ferroconcrete, and the results have been arranged in neat, humongous piles in the disaster zones, replacing the structures that had been there in the first place.

The disposal of debris (瓦礫, or gareki) is a huge issue, since communities can't rebuild with it in the way. Disposing of the gareki is also very political, since paying for the removal comes out of gigantic slush funds nominally devoted to tsunami recovery in the affected areas (but also to build a new sports stadium in Tokyo, wtf???).

It's big business, not only for the trucking companies (it also provides jobs for locals), but to the host communities that will burn the gareki.

The gareki is shipped all over Japan by train to be burned in municipal garbage incinerators.

Most garbage in Japan is burned - every community or municipality will operate its own incinerators, and, theoretically, the garbage is burned at a high enough heat to destroy all toxins.

In this case, gareki is supposedly screened for radioactivity, notably cesium contamination, but burning Tohoku tsunami debris has become a huge political issue - many host communities are opposed, and there's the general feeling in Japan (based on what a prominent minister in the previous government actually said) of spreading the effects of the tsunami/reactor crisis around Japan. There's the idea that ALL of Japan is supposed to become a radioactive dump.

The Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe) region is most opposed to burning gareki, but the video above is from Kita Kyushu.

Tsuruga, where I spend 3 months a year, recently accepted gareki for burning this past fall, but there was little if any public outcry about it, mostly because Tsuruga itself is dependent on the nuclear power industry for jobs and taxes, and presumably accepting gareki for incineration is going to result in a large infusion of cash (ie, a bribe) from the central government.

They checked for cesium, but not strontium, is a common complaint.

Personally, I'm not totally convinced that burning gareki will result in radioactive contamination. The tsunami zone extends from Ibaraki in the south to Aomori in the north, and Iwate's Sanriku coastline received the most devastation, with entire cities being destroyed.

The radioactive plume, however, headed northeast from the plant (inland), before switching course and heading southwest down to Tokyo. Subsequent shifts in wind sent the plume back inland to the northeast, dosing inland Iwate.

So the concerns of radioactive debris, while a genuine concern, seem a little overblown.

Another concern is asbestos - many of the buildings were ferroconcrete that incorporated asbestos, but I'm not sure if that is going to be incinerated.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 AM on March 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

Thanks KokuRyu, really great comment.
posted by spitbull at 11:08 AM on March 9, 2013

Regarding the contamination (or not) of debris, it's just my opinion, and it's something my wife and I have argued about quite a bit. It's a very contentious issue. However, I would like to point out that if people ever say that Japanese folks are "docile" or "disengaged" or "follow the political leadership blindly" etc etc, just point them to the Kita-Kyushu video above. It's not an outlier, really.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:21 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coincidentally, Eric Johnston has a piece in the Japan Times this week reporting that there may not be as much debris as thought, and so there may be no need to distribute incineration around Japan.

From my (admittedly skewed) perspective, Johnston is generally a pretty reliable and even-handed reporter on Japan, although he definitely has an anti-nuclear agenda, and I lost a lot of respect for him when he reprinted quotes from Arnie Gundersen who basically makes his money as an anti-nuclear consultant.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:08 PM on March 9, 2013

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