All About Japan

Onagawa: A Lesson in Recovery

| Miyagi , Tohoku

Famous for its glistening cobalt blue bay, Onagawa, in Miyagi Prefecture, is one of Japan’s premier fishing ports. The coastal town suffered extensive damage during the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, but today, Onagawa is a shining light of recovery with Onagawa Station, a symbol of the town’s new modern townscape and progress.

Recovery from Disaster

Onagawa is a remarkable model in how a town can quickly recover from a natural disaster in a short period of time. Led by the town’s private sector business leaders the local community’s reconstruction efforts have been amazing in terms of their speed and success. The rebuilding centers upon the reconstructed Onagawa Station, a symbol of the recovery process that opened on March 21, 2015. It features an integrated community center and public bathing facility on the upper floors.

An intriguing aspect of this new modern townscape is its planning and design. Extensive landscaping has taken place with shops and business now located on the lower levels of the town, with residential housing and public buildings such as schools and the town hall located at a higher elevation on nearby hillsides to further protect the town and its citizens from any future disasters.

Seapal-Pier Onagawa Shopping Center

Seapal-Pier Onagawa is a pedestrian shopping promenade that serves both the needs of the local community as well as visitors to this amazing town. The 370-meter (1,214-ft) long and 15-meter (49-ft) wide promenade was opened in December 2015 in front of Onagawa Station and connects the station with the tourist area by the sea. It features various retail shops, a mini supermarket and eateries where you can enjoy the delicious tastes of Onagawa. Enjoy a stroll along the promenade either day or night and sample some of the local town’s crafts, which include handmade organic candles and handicrafts at the Spanish tile factory, and even handcrafted guitars carved from local cedar. It's especially atmospheric in the evening when the lights come on and you enjoy a coffee at the artisanal coffeehouse or maybe something a little stronger at the craft-beer bar.

I was surprised to stumble upon a life-size Lamborghini made entirely from cardboard. The so-called "damborghini" (damboru is Japanese for cardboard) was very impressive and certainly brought out the big kid in me.

Community spirit is strong in this town and the locals have pride in their achievements. I was lucky to have a chance to stroll along the promenade and meet some of the local business owners. I especially enjoyed chatting with Takahashi-san, a local business owner running a diving shop that caters to both locals and tourists. Onagawa has some great diving spots that allow you to see the beauty of the bay and its local fish and sea life.

Onagawa Community Center

The Onagawa Community Center is like your own living room away from home and is a place for the locals and tourists alike to relax and chat. Designed with a view to revitalize the community by the local government and its citizens, it's a place where people can meet, relax, chat and exchange news and ideas. The big open space provides a comfortable environment for everyone to enjoy.

Onagawa Hands-on Fishery Learning Facility

This facility built along National Route 398 is a tourist destination and a place for locals to meet. It was built as part of the town’s effort to revitalize the local fishing industry and is a place where you can both learn about the local fish and experience first-hand how the fish and seafood are produced and cooked. I tried my hand here at shucking hotate (scallops). After a short video about how the local scallops are grown in the sea, I picked up a knife and was ready to have a go with instruction from one of the best in the business of course. The scallops in Onagawa are grown in an ocean rich in nourishment with the abductor muscles of the scallops thick with a firm texture and strong flavor. We enjoyed them raw, dipped in soy sauce, and they were delicious. The facility is also a rest area where you can purchase locals products and seafood.

Onagawa Onsen Yupo’po Hot Spring

Onagawa Onsen Yupo’po, located on the second floor of JR Onagawa Station, is a hot spring facility featuring spring water made up of calcium and sodium chloride which gently relaxes and revitalizes the body. The bath area is picturesque with wall murals of Mount Fuji and deer made with tiles painted by Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju. The building was designed by the world-renowned architect Shigeru Ban, and is noted for its large roof, designed to resemble a seagull in flight.

Onagawa Donbori Rice Bowls

Onagawa Donbori Rice Bowls

A must try local dish when in town is the famous Onagawa Donbori Rice Bowl made with fresh seasonal seafood.

Onagawa’s goal for the future is to create a vibrant town that is thriving even 100 years from now. Onagawa is well worth a visit to see how a town can successfully recover from disaster as well as soak up some of the best sea, coastline and mountains in all of Japan.