10:17pm, July 12, 1993.
A Magnitude 7.8 earthquake in northern Japan hit a remote island called Okushiri.
Powerful tidal wave, or Tsunami, immediately followed with virtually no time to escape.
Record breaking wave height measured up to 23 meters. The southern most part of the island called Aonae area was instantly demolished by the tsunami - 192 buildings were completely destroyed and 198 human lives were lost.
Within an hour a TV camera aboard a helicopter started to transmit the disaster scene to the viewers including myself, horrified and made feeling helpless.
Traveling Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, is the typical way of my summer vacation. 2 times on my motorcycle, then several times by my cheap second-hand van filled with camping goods, with my girlfriend who later turned to be my wife. In the year 2000, after returning from the U.S., we revisited Hokkaido.
Having no detailed plan or reservation in advance is our style of traveling this northern country. We no longer felt Hokkaido as big as before, because we experienced America. Nevertheless we enjoyed Hokkaido just as same as before.
This time we traveled southern part of Hokkaido, where we hadn't spent time before. On the second day in Hakodate city we found that Okushiri island was pretty close. We altered our plan - which is measured by days, not hours - and started to drive toward Setana Port, where we parked our van and took a ferry to the island.
Maximum height of the Tsunami at Port Aonae measured 11.7meters... How can we believe it!?
2 hours of cruise was pretty smooth.
At the Port Okushiri the weather was so nice -
bright sunshine, less humidity, pleasant breeze.
One of the reasons traveling Hokkaido in high summer.
All rental cars were out near the port. We phoned a minsyuku, meaning family owned small hotel & restaurant, in Aonae area. They had a room as well as a rental car.
30 minutes of public bus ride to Aonae was fun and relaxing; it never went faster than 30km/h and we enjoyed the scenery of the coast. As the bus approached Aonae, we began feeling something strange. The economy of rural coast cannot be highly successful usually. We should see small and old, often poor looking, fisherman's houses and huts along such coast line. However in there, all of the buildings were modern and like new. Yes... They were once swept away by the Tsunami, without exception!
I can still easily recall the images of the helicopter cameras flying over the disaster area that night.
All these areas were burning, just as if many bombs had been dropped on.
After the disaster the restoration of Aonae started.
Residential houses and shops were relocated to the higher place,
leaving the previous village center as a spacious public park.
A large black marble monument was build at the center of the park,
as seen in the picture on the right.
Names of all casualties are engraved on the low stone wall surrounding the monument.
Tsunami museum was under construction when we visited summer 2000, expected to open within the year. Aonae returned to a peaceful, quiet fishermen's village.
We couldn't do anything to Okushiri until this year. We hoped visiting to and staying at Aonae one night could contribute, although very little, to the island's economy. The reward was the fine Japanese home-made style dinner filled with locally harvested fresh seafood, which is always the proud of Okushiri.