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Finance 'It feels like we're in jail': Japan spent $12 billion on seawalls after the devastating 2011 tsunami — and now locals are feeling like prisoners

Since Japan's Fukushima disaster, about 245 miles of seawall structure has been built along the coast and some locals aren't happy about it.

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A man looks through a window of a seawall at a port in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. play

A man looks through a window of a seawall at a port in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)

  • Japan's Fukushima disaster — a devastating string of events that included a tsunami with 42-foot high waves — left 18,000 dead in 2011.
  • In response, many towns along Japan's coast have since built massive seawalls to help protect against future tsunamis.
  • Many locals aren't happy with the walls, saying they feel like they're "in jail."

This month marks the seven-year anniversary of Japan's Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

The catastrophic Fukushima disaster included a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, a resulting tsunami, and a power-plant accident, which left close to 18,000 people dead in total.

The tsunami also took 5 million tons of debris with it. While 70% of the debris sank, 1.5 million tons of it was left floating in the Pacific Ocean.

Since the devastation, some towns have prohibited building in flatter areas near the coast, while others have raised their land before building new structures.

Others are building seawalls. About 245 miles of seawall structure has been built along the coast to protect from future tsunamis. It has cost Japan about $12 billion to build these 41-foot concrete seawalls, according to Reuters, which block the view of the beaches and sea from residents — and some people aren't happy with it.

"It feels like we're in jail, even though we haven't done anything bad," an oyster fisherman, Atsushi Fujita, told Reuters. Others are worried about the walls discouraging tourism.

Ahead, a look at the resulting seawalls along Japan's coast.

The new seawalls are 41 feet high and made of concrete.

Residential houses and commercial buildings stand behind a seawall at a port in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

Residential houses and commercial buildings stand behind a seawall at a port in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


These newer walls replaced the old 13-foot breakwaters, which were destroyed during the Fukushima disaster on March 11, 2011.

A laborer works at a construction site in Taro town, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

A laborer works at a construction site in Taro town, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


"It feels like we're in jail, even though we haven't done anything bad," Atsushi Fujita, a 52-year-old oyster fisherman, told Reuters.

Atsushi Fujita sails his boat as he leaves a dock where seawalls are installed at Hirota Bay in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

Atsushi Fujita sails his boat as he leaves a dock where seawalls are installed at Hirota Bay in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


Around 245 miles of seawalls have been built at a cost of about $12.74 billion.

An oyster farm is seen behind a seawall at Hirota Bay in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

An oyster farm is seen behind a seawall at Hirota Bay in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


"The seawalls will halt tsunamis and prevent them from inundating the land," Hiroyasu Kawai, a researcher at the Port and Airport Research Institute in Yokosuka, told Reuters.

A man walks along a path on a seawall in Yamada village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

A man walks along a path on a seawall in Yamada village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


"Even if the tsunami is bigger than the wall, the wall will delay flooding and guarantee more time for evacuation," said Kawai.

A seawall in Yamada village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

A seawall in Yamada village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


Some locals are worried the tourism industry will be negatively effected by the seawalls.

A bus is driven past a seawall in Yamada village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

A bus is driven past a seawall in Yamada village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


"About 50 years ago, we came up here with the kids and enjoyed drives along the beautiful ocean and bays. Now, there's not even a trace of that," Reiko Iijima, a tourist from central Japan, told Reuters.

A boat is parked in front of a seawall at Onappe beach in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 2, 2018. play

A boat is parked in front of a seawall at Onappe beach in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 2, 2018.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


Others find it to be more than just an eyesore. "Everyone here has lived with the sea, through generations," Sotaro Usui, head of a tuna supply company, told Reuters. "The wall keeps us apart — and that's unbearable."

Vending machines stand in front of a seawall at Hirota Bay in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 4, 2018. play

Vending machines stand in front of a seawall at Hirota Bay in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 4, 2018.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


Part of the seawalls in the city of Kesennuma have window cut-outs.

A fishing boat is seen through a window of a seawall at a port in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

A fishing boat is seen through a window of a seawall at a port in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


"They're a parody," Yuichiro Ito said of the windows. Ito lost his home and younger brother in the tsunami. "It's just to keep us happy with something we never wanted in the first place."

play

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


Initially, many welcomed the building of the seawalls, but have become more critical of them over time.

Large bags containing construction materials are placed at a construction site to reinforce and extend an old seawall in Tanohata village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

Large bags containing construction materials are placed at a construction site to reinforce and extend an old seawall in Tanohata village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


Some locals told Reuters that they were not consulted enough in the planning stages, and money spent on rebuilding elsewhere, such as housing, has fallen behind.

A seawall under construction surrounded by scaffolding in Tanohata village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

A seawall under construction surrounded by scaffolding in Tanohata village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


Fishermen are also worried. Some told Reuters that the sea walls could block natural water flows from the land and impact future production.

A seawall is illuminated at night in Yamada village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

A seawall is illuminated at night in Yamada village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


Here, the "Miracle Pine," a tree which is said to symbolize hope and recovery after it survived the 2011 tsunami, stands next to a damaged building in front of the newly built seawall in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

Here, the "Miracle Pine," a tree which is said to symbolize hope and recovery after it survived the 2011 tsunami, stands next to a damaged building in front of the newly built seawall in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. play

Here, the "Miracle Pine," a tree which is said to symbolize hope and recovery after it survived the 2011 tsunami, stands next to a damaged building in front of the newly built seawall in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)


Still, some locals are glad to have a wall. "I can't say things like 'the wall should be lower' or 'we don't need it,'" Katsuhiro Hatakeyama, who has rebuilt his bed and breakfast business in the same location as before, told Reuters. "It's thanks to the wall that I could rebuild, and now have a job."

The sun rises over a seawall at a beach in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, March 4, 2018. play

The sun rises over a seawall at a beach in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, March 4, 2018.

(Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)