When a massive tsunami engulfed the north-eastern coastline of Japan a decade ago, it wiped out everything in its path, flattening villages, killing nearly 20,000 people and triggering a nuclear meltdown.
The old seawalls which had been built along the coastline to protect villages and infrastructure offered little protection.
Today, the government’s solution to the next tsunami is to build an even bigger and longer seawall to protect Japan’s coastal communities.
Up to 14 metres high and 400 kilometres long, the new seawall is dividing communities, and some fear, placing them in greater danger.
Presented by former Japan correspondent Mark Willacy, The Great Wall of Japan travels along the north-eastern coast of Japan’s main island to meet the fishermen and communities affected by one of the country’s biggest ever construction projects.
Oyster farmer Atsushi Fujita has mixed feelings about the wall, saying it’s destroying his community’s livelihood and culture.
“We’re all very sad that our former lifestyle has gone and we can no longer see the ocean from our windows. It’s really affecting us a lot.”
In the village of Akahama, fisherman Hiromi Kawaguchi has galvanised locals against the building of a giant wall. While he lost his wife and mother to the 2011 tsunami, he has no faith a new seawall will protect locals in the event of another great wave.
“In the last tsunami, the old wall was destroyed and its remains were left floating on the surface like cubes of tofu. Everything man-made is destined to be destroyed. It’s inevitable.”
But others support the wall, including construction executive Kazunori Yamamoto, who believes the old seawall saved his family in 2011.
“The breakwater earned us precious time, enabling a lot of people to escape. Without the breakwater, my whole family would have died.”
Scientists are divided on the benefits. Some say the wall will slow a tsunami’s advance, allowing more time for people to escape. Others say it will do the opposite, providing a false sense of security, delaying departure and putting people in greater danger.
Some believe the 17 billion dollars spent on the wall’s construction could have been better used moving more communities to higher ground.
As Japan commemorates the tsunami’s 10th anniversary, this is a moving and timely story from the region hardest hit by the 2011 disaster.
Watch Great Wall of Japan on Foreign Correspondent – Tuesday 2 March at 8pm on ABC TV + iview.
You can catch replays on ABC NEWS channel Thursdays at 12:30am, Saturdays at 9:30pm and Sundays at 6:30pm.