SEOUL — The tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan on March 11 swept six miles inland. It turned hundreds of square miles into rubble.
Now, Google shows what remains -- and what Japan must somehow try to rebuild. Google this week updated its Street View service to include post-tsunami images of almost every road and building in Japan’s disaster zone. (Google Street View provides panoramic views from various positions along many streets around the world.) Google says it drove its camera-affixed cars more than 27,000 miles through the affected region. It also created a special “Build the Memory” Web site where web surfers can easily compare and after shots.
The digital tour of the area feels almost voyeuristic, so naked is the destruction. But it also provides a vital record of one of the world’s largest natural disasters. Here, a ship stretches alongside the road:
Here, an old lady walks down the street:
Here, you get a sense of the flattened nothingness that now comprises much of the region:
“In the case of the post-tsunami imagery of Japan, we hope this particular digital archiving project will be useful to researchers and scientists who study the effects of natural disasters,” Google said in a blog post. “We also believe that the imagery is a useful tool for anyone around the world who wants to better understand the extent of the damage.”
The Street View service doesn’t include images from the no-go zone surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant; Google’s cars did not enter that area.
For a glimpse of the hardest-hit cities, check out Ishinomaki, Rikuzentakata, Ofunato or Minamisanriku. Images from the disaster zone are stamped in the lower left corner with the month and year that they were taken. Almost all of the images were taken between July and November, and Google says it hopes to later update the images.
As the Post’s Tokyo bureau chief, I’ve taken numerous reporting trips to the disaster zone, most recently in early November. During that trip, a co-worker and I spent a night in Kesennuma, whose downtown consists mostly of hollowed out buildings that were ruined by the wave, but not knocked down by it. At our ryokan (hotel), we asked at the front desk where to grab a late meal.
The guy mentioned one tavern that had just reopened, a place called Pinpon; the bar was on the second floor.
So we went. We parked our car in a dark lot. We climbed up some stairs. The quiet seemed forbidding. We stopped halfway up and debated whether to go inside. We opened the door.
And it was packed. Smokers crowding the bar. Groups of workers, eight or ten to a table. Women attending to the jukebox. Waiters turning through the narrow alleys between tables, holding pitchers of beer. We sat down and ordered sashimi and fried chicken and grilled fish. Hardly a night that needs a historical record, but it felt hopeful, alive.
This is what Pinpon looked like in July.
I like to imagine the people outside are cleaning up.
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