It's crazy - even now, 9 years after the tsunami, they're still working hard to terraform the entire region.
This is Minami Sanriku, one of the worst affected places along the coastline.
They are raising the entire town 10 meters above sea level.
And the building we're standing on now, which is completely destroyed, has been left here
as a monument for the disaster.
To remind people of the sheer destructive force that this region witnessed.
400 kilometers of coastline were wiped off the map in a single day,
taking the lives of over 15,000 people.
And with an estimated 235 billion dollars of destruction,
the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami remains the costliest natural disaster
the world has ever seen.
I've come to take a look at the past, present and future of the region,
to hear the incredible stories of the people whose destinies
were forever shaped by the tsunami.
From a destroyed farm that went on to cultivate Japan's most expensive and luxurious strawberries,
to an inventor who redesigned one of the world's most wasteful products.
We'll meet the fishermen who lost everything,
but went on to redefine their industry.
And hear the inspiring story of Ichiyo Kanno,
the owner of an inn who lost their home and her family,
but refused to close her business.
These are the extraordinary stories of what happened after the tsunami.
The Japanese coastline has always been prone to tsunamis,
but nothing could have prepared Tohoku region
for what it was going to face on March 11th, 2011.
The highest wave to hit Minami Sanriku registered at 67 feet high,
with over 800 people losing their lives.
Almost 10% of the town's population.
To help future generations appreciate the sheer destructive power a tsunami can bring,
this time, the town is leaving behind a brutal reminder.
The lone, five-storey building standing in the wasteland was once a popular wedding venue.
Today, as the diggers work around it on all sides, it remains completely untouched -
both as a time capsule, and as a horror story.
I'm meeting with Fumio Ito, who was in Minami Sanriku on the day of the disaster,
and he dedicates his time as a 'kataribe', literally a storyteller.
As we make our way through the skeletal remains of the building, he paints a bleak picture
of how events unfolded for the 327 people who took refuge within its walls.
He says that on the elevator shaft, on the fifth floor of the building,
there was over 40 people in here on the day of the tsunami 'cause it was freezing cold.
Don't forget it was March - it was winter, it was freezing.
This is where they came - this is where they stayed.
Just before the tsunami struck at 2:46pm,
and two thirds of the structure disappeared beneath the waves,
panic and confusion quickly took hold, as many considered fleeing the building.
Fortunately, a tsunami expert present on the day
was able to warn most of the people to stay inside on the upper levels.
Tragically, not everyone heeded the warming.
Whilst the water from the tsunami didn't reach this level,
the waves that hit the building came over - they sort of spilled over the building and reached this level.
So, even though we're above the level of the tsunami,
you can still see on this photo just how much water was on the roof of the building,
which is unthinkable when you think how high up we are now.
So we're on the second level now, and this floor- the water level came higher than this floor.
And the most remarkable thing is this shrine is completely intact.
Not only was there a tsunami, there was the massive earthquake - the magnitude 9.1 earthquake,
and that caused untold destruction before the tsunami even hit.
And yet, look at the condition of this shrine.
There's barely a scratch on it.
I think it was a really great idea to keep this place here.
I mean, looking at the photos of what it looked like before the tsunami and now,
it's- it's unrecognisable. It really is.
This is one of the only buildings remaining, and it conveys that destruction in a way that
just photos simply can't.
Sea water didn't just wash away people and homes.
It also stole the livelihoods of those that survived,
particularly in the agricultural sector
where the salt water destroyed the fertile soil along the coastline.
The town of Yamamoto, just 30 minutes south of Sendai city,
lost its entire farming industry overnight.
But instead of giving up, the strawberry farmers in the area teamed up to work together,
and through their adversity, their hard work paid off.
as they ended up cultivating the most luxurious variety of strawberry in all of Japan.
So this is Ichigo World - literally, strawberry world.
And, in this greenhouse alone, there's over 12 tons of strawberries.
I'm gonna go and eat them all.
In recent years, GRA, the company that owns the farm,
has received a great deal of international publicity for selling Japan's most expensive strawberries.
But just how much can you expect to pay for a box of the biggest, juiciest, most decadent strawberries?
So these are the most premium strawberries that you can purchase here.
They're literally called 'Migaki Ichigo' - polished strawberries.
And if you look at them...
There we go, look at that!
The absolute best strawberries money can buy.
5000 yen for a box, about 50 dollars, but,
each and every one of these strawberries has been cultivated to absolute perfection.
Easily the most sophisticated premium strawberries that I've ever seen.
Takao Ono is the company's undeniably lucky manager
who's now gonna show us the best way to unlock the flavor of each strawberry.
So how many strawberries do you eat in a week, Ono-san?
- Too many!
Hearing the story of how Yamamoto's strawberry farms not only recovered but went on to thrive,
reminded me of another industry that was decimated and forced to rethink how they did business.
Over 25,000 fishing vessels were lost or damaged in the tsunami,
and 319 fishing ports worth 80 billion dollars completely wiped off the map.
But if losing 90% of the region's boats wasn't enough,
after the recovery, many fishermen were failing to attract young recruits to their fleets
due to the sector being perceived as uncool and old-fashioned.
Two years ago, I heard the story of a group of fishermen from the city of Ishinomaki,
one of the worst affected cities,
who had risen to the challenge of trying to rebrand the sector.
They'd started a company called 'Fisherman Japan',
and united experienced fishermen to work together and support each other.
One of their first moves was to launch a marketing campaign that quickly went viral called 'Fisherman Call',
where, instead of using your usual phone alarm to wake up,
you could go to their website, choose the fisherman of your choice,
and have them call you up in the morning instead.
Almost overnight, the somewhat unique campaign was a success
and led to an influx of 10,000 members joining their fan club.
Although brilliant marketing aside, I've always wondered if it was a gimmick,
or if they actually went through with it.
And having been invited to join the very fisherman who launched the campaign,
on one of their morning journeys out into the Pacific to harvest seaweed,
we're finally about to find out.
CB: So it's just gone 5am, the sun's coming up - beautiful conditions!
Seriously - on a day like this, you can really see the appeal of being a fisherman.
We haven't come that far out, actually - we sailed out for 10 minutes,
and this whole area is marked out with buoys,
and they literally just pulled one of them up, and a staggering amount of seaweed appeared.
And the four of them are now harvesting the seaweed,
which is then going to be shipped off to restaurants
such as the one in Tokyo that we're gonna visit later on.
Y'know what, I have a lot of respect for fishermen.
While we're tucked up in bed in the morning,
they're out here, often in brutal conditions,
getting the food that we eat and take for granted.
I mean, I get up at 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning - by that point,
these guys have already been up like 5 or 6 hours.
To be honest, I'm probably the ideal person for Fisherman Call.
CB: The essence of Fisherman Japan isn't about ringing people up in the morning, though.
Key to their success is putting a face to the often anonymous fishermen
who supply the freshly-sourced seafood that diners enjoy hundreds of kilometers away.
After building their team and successfully launching their campaign,
the next step was to set up a restaurant in the middle of Tokyo, 400km south,
where they can regularly visit, meet the customers,
and connect the dining experience with the hard work and craftsmanship
that goes into sourcing the ingredients.
CB: So we've harvested the seaweed - well, I didn't, they did - they did a very good job.
And here it is!
Fresh out of the ocean.
Even though we are in the middle of nowhere right now,
this is gonna be loaded onto a truck and sent down to Tokyo
to arrive on my plate.
But before then, first thing's first,
we're gonna go and take a look at the future of chopsticks!
In the days following the disaster, with 121,000 buildings completely demolished,
and almost 700,000 damaged,
people fled to evacuation centres to seek shelter.
Unsurprisingly, supplies quickly began to run out,
including eating utensils such as chopsticks.
One problem is that the most popular variety of chopsticks in Japan are single-use chopsticks.
In fact, every single year, a staggering 24 billion pairs are disposed of,
equivalent to 200 pairs per person.
As supplies began to run out, one man took note and wondered
if he could come up with reusable chopsticks that weren't just more environmentally friendly
but were also inspired by the town's local delicacy.
Japan goes through 250,000 tons of scallop shells every single year
and they are just thrown away - they're just tossed away.
But, perhaps, there is a future for them after all,
'cause these chopsticks are 51% made of scallop shells.
And it makes it not only durable and lasts longer than plastic, but also heat resistant.
And when they are eventually disposed of and incinerated, they let off far less smoke than plastic.
It's an amazing idea - an amazing example of recycling something that's normally just tossed away.
The western option - fork and spoon.
As Akio's factory gears up for mass production,
it won't be long before thousands of scallop shell chopsticks
are in the hands of people across the country.
And while we're on the subject of chopsticks, it's time for me to head to Tokyo
to try the freshly-caught seafood and to meet Yuki Tsuda,
one of the team from Fisherman Japan who helped open the restaurant in Nakano.
So this wakame seaweed is the seaweed we caught just this morning up in Miyagi.
It feels like a world away now.
Juicy. Fatty - fatty.
This is real wasabi root.
The chef just harvested the wasabi and literally grated it in front of us.
It's not the fake horse radish you normally get at sushi restaurants.
Oh my god...
What have I done?
Of all the people I've met and stories I've heard travelling around the tsunami-affected coastline,
none of them has been quite as moving or as inspirational as Ichio Kanno's.
Ichio runs an inn in a peaceful fishing town on the outskirts of Kesennuma city,
and despite suffering great personal loss, has a reputation
for being the life and soul of the local community.
For the last stop on our journey, I wanted to catch up with her,
and see how her life has changed in the years since we last met.
Here we are!
It's been about... two years since I last visited Tsunakan, so...
it's gonna be quite strange seeing Ichio again for the first time.
Here we go!
Oh my god!
One of the most noticeable differences since my last visit is the gigantic concrete sea wall.
8 meters thick and 2 years in the making. Just a few yards in front of Ichio's home.
It's been built to protect the community from the frequent tsunamis the coastline faces.
Ichio is well-acquainted with the dangers that come from living on Japan's Pacific coast.
In 2011, the tsunami destroyed her home, and her entire village.
As the area began to re-emerge from the rubble,
Ichio and her husband were at the heart of reviving the community
when they decided to set up an inn that quickly gained popularity with the locals.
However, in 2017, just as her life was getting back on track,
her husband, eldest daughter and son-in-law went out fishing
and tragically lost their lives when their boat overturned.
After several months of mourning, Ichio took the difficult decision to re-open her business,
so she could continue doing what she loved.
I ask her how she feels about the ocean, given how much pain it's inflicted upon her life.
As life begins to return to normal almost a decade after the disaster,
and the 12 billion dollar sea walls that stretch along Tohoku's coastline reach completion,
I leave feeling inspired by the resilient and optimistic spirit
of each and every one of the people whose stories we've heard.
And though none of the people in this documentary have ever met,
all of them are connected - all of their paths in life have been shaped by the events
of March 11th, 2011.
They've shown that even when things seem to be at their very worst,
it doesn't have to be the end.
Hope lingers on.