On March 11th, 2011, the northeastern coast of Japan has inundated by an unprecedented tsunami that caused an estimated fifteen billion dollars in damages to the Tohoku fishing industry. Despite the catastrophic impacts to the industry, fishing communities of the northeast have exhibited an astonishing resilience in the aftermath of the disaster. In order to understand what factors and characteristics make fishers and fishing communities more resilient to disasters, I chose to conduct my research project in the heavily impacted fishing city of Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture.
Data for the project was collected through participant observation, local recovery plans, as well as through thirty-four interviews conducted with fishers and city officials in three districts of Ofunato. The interviews were designed to collect information on perceptions of current recovery efforts and to understand what qualities are considered essential to disaster resilience. I asked the interviewees to describe the strategies they employed and the resources they relied on in order to regain their livelihoods.
From my two and half months in the field it is clear that the immense destruction faced by Ofunato communities has given rise to a multitude of survival strategies and recovery tactics. Currently I am in the process of coding the information I have collected and plan to comprehensively delineate the various ways in which people and communities achieve resilience in my master’s thesis. Through an in-depth case study of the city of Ofunato, I intend to shed light on how societies can be structured to better ensure resilience to disasters.