Sole Survivor: How 1 Japanese Town Resisted the Tsunami


It’s ugly. It’s huge. It cost $30 million. But the 51-foot-tall floodgate that was long considered a “mayor’s folly” saved the village of Fudai, Japan from destruction on March 11th 2011, the day an earthquake and tsunami destroyed much of the nation and left 25,000 people missing or dead. All but one resident of the town survived thanks to this unattractive hunk of 1970’s architecture.

Fudai is a mountainous community located in the hard-hit Iwate Prefecture. While other towns in the prefecture, like Rikuzentakata, below, were practically wiped off the map by the nearly 80-foot-high waves that came barreling in from the ocean, Fudai was mostly untouched. Today, it looks much the same as it did on March 10th, a sharp contrast to the hellish scenes that surround it. If it weren’t for a stubborn mayor haunted by the scenes of death he had witnessed decades before, the outcome for Fudai would have been very different.


(image via: ehnmark)

Kotaku Wamura, who served 10 terms starting just after World War II, had pushed for the floodgate project in fear of a repeat of the 1933 tsunami that killed 439 of the town’s residents and destroyed hundreds of homes. After building a 51-foot seawall to protect homes behind the fishing port, he wanted a floodgate just as tall for the cove where the Fudai River empties into the sea, where most of the community was located. Construction began in 1972 despite the misgivings of city council members, who were concerned about its behemoth size.


(top and above image via: seattle pi)

Wamura died in 1997, but since the tsunami, villagers have been visiting his grave in tribute. His words to village employees at the time of his retirement in 1987 have now taken on a new meaning: “”Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”