East Japan Earthquake Heritage Sites

Completed Project
World Monuments Watch
Tōhoku and Kantō Regions, Japan

2012 and 2014 World Monuments Watch

In March 2011 a powerful earthquake struck the northeast coast of Japan. In the wake of the catastrophic tsunami that followed, many thousands lost their lives and millions lost electricity and water. In response to this humanitarian crisis the recovery effort was prompt, but it was expected to be several years before many of these communities returned to stable conditions.

The repair and restoration of built heritage has proved to be an important social element for communities recovering from disaster. According to Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, more than 700 national landmarks were damaged by the earthquake, most located in the Tōhoku and Kantō regions. In addition to these sites, many other traditional buildings and historic townscapes were damaged in places such as the coastal city of Kesennuma in the Tōhoku region. Although traditional Japanese architecture is known to withstand earthquakes, in this instance the force of the earthquake and tsunami was so severe that countless historic buildings suffered from damage, deformation, and partial or complete collapse. Local advocates formed a coalition to catalog the damage and coordinate domestic and international aid for the rehabilitation of cultural heritage. Local authorities in Japan have prioritized the needs of different sites and communities affected by the earthquake.

The East Japan Earthquake Heritage Sites were included on the World Monuments Watch in 2012 and 2014. Inclusion on the Watch was catalytic in securing necessary funding and technical expertise for the damaged historic architecture. With the support of American Express, we provided substantial assistance for the restoration of nationally significant structures in the towns of Sawara, Kesennuma, and Ogatsu in the Tōhoku and Kantō regions. The work in these three towns aims to help reinvigorate the local economy and boost town morale by rebuilding the tourist economy. Each year visitor rates continue to grow closer to their pre-earthquake figures, and substantial funds have been raised to continue assisting local residents and business owners in their recovery efforts.

Last updated: February 2019.

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