Hoisting the Flag for “Intellectual Curiosity”
Coastal Marine Science @ Iwate Prefecture
Contributed by Jun Aoyama (from Kanagawa)
International Coastal Research Center, Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute
An oceanographer who has traveled the world to elucidate the mysterious ecology of eels is embarking on a new voyage with a focus on the sea of Sanriku. Hoisted at the bow of his metaphorical ship is a flag. On this flag is inscribed an idea that had once faded following the March 11 disaster: “intellectual curiosity.”
I began working at the International Coastal Research Center (ICRC) of the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute in April 2014. The ICRC is located in Ōtsuchi Town in Iwate Prefecture, and suffered tremendous damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake. The first and second floors of the building were totally destroyed by the tsunami, but the ICRC remained operational by refurbishing the third floor, which had also flooded. With the help of the local community, a survey vessel was promptly built in order for the ICRC to investigate the damage done to coastal ecosystems as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. The investigation and research activities were undoubtedly important for the recovery of the local fisheries industry, and also in terms of meeting the strong social need for making preparations for similar disasters. Setting foot into town, you can still see vivid traces of the lives, property and memories viciously taken away by the disaster. As the locals, the town, and the whole community were breaking free of the tragic memories of the disaster and pressing forward towards recovery, the concept of “intellectual curiosity” seemed to be completely irrelevant. Now, three years have passed since I arrived here, and the local atmosphere is slowly changing. As part of the natural course of recovery efforts, a tsunami-resistant town has been built. And now, the fact that people bring towns to life, which is often taken for granted, is becoming strikingly apparent. While the central area has finally recovered, Ōtsuchi Town is finding it difficult to convince residents to stay, so the number of houses rebuilt is far lower than expected. From this point forth, the town will face the same challenge as similar places throughout the country: how to tackle the decline of regional areas symptomatic of depopulation and the aging of society.
Note: This article was originally printed in Tansei 35 (Japanese language only). All information in this article is as of September 2017.