By Philippe Pons

Posted today at 00:52

You can smell the sea but you can’t see it. It is on the other side of a 14.7 meter high concrete wall that runs 2.5 kilometers around the bay of the small port of Taro. Rectangular openings 5 ​​meters high and 4 meters wide in this rampart provide access to the quay where fishing boats are moored.

Taro is infamous. Frequently victim of tsunamis, the small town had been equipped with a 10-meter-high dike which was submerged and partly demolished by the tidal wave of March 11, 2011, leaving 140 dead and 41 missing. What remained of it, part of which has been preserved for memory, was reinforced, raised and extended by a new wall.

In Taro, the fishermen's prefabricated warehouses (on the left) are separated from the sea by a dike under construction 14.7 meters high.

Seen from the sea, Taro looks like a citadel. The office, on the first floor of a small building, of Shoei Kobayashi, president of the fishing cooperative, overlooks the wall. “We are in a port and the sea has been delighted to us. Citadel or prison? It depends on the point of view. But it is sad. “” Me, I was born here, I lived here, and I have only the sea “, adds fisherman Kazuo Tazara.

Deceptive sense of security

Is a concrete shield enough to protect a coastal town from tsunamis as strong as that of Fukushima? Faced with this vast question, the Japanese government, in the hands of the Liberal Democratic Party which maintains close ties with construction companies, has opted for a shock strategy: higher, longer, wider dikes. A budget equivalent to 10 billion euros has been distributed among the three giants of the sector. And walls now punctuate the coast of Tohoku (North East) over nearly 400 km, covering three departments (Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima).

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The people of Iwate, once nicknamed the “Tibet of Japan” because of its rugged terrain, are harsh people, stingy in words. The construction of a tsunami wall divided communities. The fishermen were openly opposed to it; those whose work is unrelated to the sea more favorable.

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The concrete rampart gives a deceptive feeling of security which risks dissuading the inhabitants from immediately taking refuge on heights. It also hides the sea from fishermen who can anticipate a tsunami. Finally, it causes ecological damage by blocking the water of the groundwater which flows towards the sea. However, the latter and the mountain feed on each other, writes Shigeatsu Hatakeyama in a book with the evocative title , The forest lover of the sea (Wildproject, 2019), which mixes ecology and poetry in its approach to the Sanriku region before the tsunami.

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