Archive for April, 2011

Date: April 30th, 2011
Cate: design, issue

Sendai, My First Impression

Tohoku express train, which runs between Sendai and Tokyo, has recovered on March 25th, 2011. Taking one of the first trains, we arrived to Sendai, one of the major cities which had been struck by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that took place on 3.11.

Upon arrival, there is no obvious damage you see in Sendai station. In fact, I was surprised to see how bright it is inside the station, with all the signs lit in full strength, contrasting to how things are in Tokyo: For several weeks now, major train and metro stations have dimmed quite a few lights. As an ignorant who had this simplified conclusion of ‘Sendai is damaged,’ this was one of the first surprises I have encountered. Later I found out, that because factories are shut down and no longer in function, there are less demands in consuming electricity, thus any remaining facilities do not need to be concerned much on their part of consumption. In that sense, there is no secret to the matching electricity demand and supply.

Inside Sendai station. Notice all the signs are lit. April 25th, 2011.

Major stations dimming lights to save electricity. Iidabashi, Tokyo.

It turned out that the central part of Sendai remained less damaged considering the impact of the earthquake. It appeared as quite a contrast to some stereotypical images of earthquakes we see in Japan. For example, upon the great earthquake in Kobe in 1995, over 200,000 buildings were completely shattered and caused 77% of the deaths from whom laid underneath those roofs.

Later I have learned from Professor Motoe, who teaches architecture in Tohoku University, that different types of earthquakes cause different shakes thus change the impact to buildings. The earthquake that hit Kobe was so called shallow inland earthquakes, which took place right south of the Kobe city. The land shook in a strong and sharp manner.

Meanwhile, this time, the epicenter of the earthquake was 72 kilometers away from the coastline. The land shook hard, but as I understood, was felt more in sideways. According to the professor, this time, wooden-structured buildings, which consist of most of the residential homes in Japan, were not damaged. Wooden homes are typically two-stories, or three at max, and simply does not have the height to be shaken. On the other hand, tall buildings shook side ways. This series of strong horizontal shakes lasted several minutes, and gave a severe damage to old and tall buildings.

The photo is from the university campus located in Aoba-Yama, Tohoku University. This building stands high and strong from a stranger’s eye. However, professor pointed at the horizontal crack that goes across the entire building. This crack is a proof that the building hard that steel rods inside were bent permanently. From what I imagine, it’s like those paper clips: when you stretch them and play too much with it, the metal gets too weak and falls apart.

A horizontal crack goes across the building. Most likely to be torn down as it is more costly to reinforce the steel rods damaged inside.


Similar damages can be seen at a pachinko parlor in the center of the city.

On March 11th, teachers and students ran out without taking much of their belongings. Laptops, textbooks, they are all in there. Professor doubts whether anyone could claim them, as aftershocks of such large earthquakes themselves can be called great. Despite of the damages, the school will start after the long Golden Week holidays that take place today, however, as students have lost their studios, it would be difficult for them to have a proper class.

Fortunately, many universities outside of the region, both domestically and internationally, are offering engineering students a temporary relocation and taking classes. With so many offers, some might even have a rare opportunity of experiencing exciting courses, which they might not have had otherwise.

But there is one major obstacle to this positive scheme. Professor told us that despite of such opportunities given to students, it can be hard to convince students to take part. Some students have already been to Osaka and Tokyo for the past few weeks, as the school instructed them to be away unless they have families in the region. These students were in a shock, as particularly in the West their everyday lives seem to be no different from the days before the earthquake. In addition, students also feel some sense of responsibility and should not leave the city behind.

It is no surprise but I felt that we are reminded that in order to make sure of the recovery, it is the psychological aspect that needs as much care as the physical. If universities are to offer their courses and accommodations to students, they will also need a community which could also be engaged with them. This, I am afraid, is not the biggest expertise for many Japanese institutions. How can we ensure to people who were affected with the earthquake to have a proper start-up as they are to be back on track?