In some places, the debris has been piled into giant middens – fifteen 11 metre high hills that double as garbage dump, memorial and future refuge, inspired by the improbable story of three survivors who desperately scrambled up a small ten metre hill behind their home as it was overrun by the tsunami. The Millennium Hope Hills was conceived as one line of defence to protect people from future disasters – a safe-ish haven and a delay tactic, planted out by hundreds of volunteers in eleven types of trees that, in twenty years, as a mature forest, could mitigate the full force of a tsunami. The goal is not to hold back nature but to acknowledge it – and give people a little more time to evacuate.
Mr. Shirakawa lost everything that day – his home, family treasures, photographs, a niece, community. He piggybacked an old grandmother to higher ground alongside the rest of his family. After the quake ended, the water from the harbour disappeared. It retreated, eerily, out past the concrete levee that sheltered the community’s narrow boats, out past the seaweed harvesting grounds. Out beyond view, the tsunami was gathering force, sucking the ocean into its maw, scraping even the seabed up, turning the huge wave that would surge back minutes later completely black.