2017 Volume 126 Issue 5 Pages 533-556
A tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, devastated coastal areas of Sanriku in northeastern Japan. Because Sanriku had been damaged repeatedly by tsunamis in the past, local governments and residents attempted to protect coastal communities by building large tide embankments, raising the ground, and relocating houses to higher ground. Geographical studies on the disaster mainly focus on the vulnerability of regional communities to disasters and on measures taken to reduce hazard risks. Recently, geographers have begun to use the concept of resilience to examine the process of reconstruction. This study examines factors that contribute to the high level of resilience of a local community impacted by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 by presenting the case of the Moune district of Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture. An adaptation process model of local communities is proposed to examine a local community impacted by a disaster. Three time-series phases consider the pre-disaster period, evacuation and refugee period directly after the disaster, and the planning period of the group relocation project. Resilience in the context of geography is an adaptation process in which a local community is reconstructed after a disaster to achieve a new phase of low vulnerability. The Moune district is examined from interviews and document surveys carried out from 2012 through 2016. It is suggested that resilience functioned successfully: people in the local community quickly agreed to resettle to a new residential quarter on higher ground and the resettlement project was completed successfully. The social capital formed in the context of local history and community based on the traditional culture and the economy contributed to forming a high level of resilience to the tsunami disaster. Geographical studies on resilience may facilitate an accurate understanding of tsunami-prone areas.