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Tōhoku in pictures: Five years after the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. The most powerful quake recorded in Japan’s history, it devastated coastal areas across northeastern parts of the country. For the last five years, Google Maps has been capturing 360-degree, panoramic imagery of these areas with Street View cameras, as well as aerial photographs. These snapshots show what has changed in the aftermath of the disaster—and what hasn’t.

You can now see updated Street View imagery from 59 cities, 19 towns and 4 villages from the Ibaraki, Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, which was collected between June 2015 and January 2016. Part of the “Great East Japan Earthquake Digital Archive Project," this is the third Street View imagery update since the disaster. 

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View of Miyako from 2009 to 2016 You can see all this imagery, as well as Street View images of these areas from before the disaster on the Google Maps "Memories for the Future" page.

By using Street View technology to record, exhibit and archive the damage, we hope to give people—both those who used to live there, and those who have never been—a way to see and understand the destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami. It may also give future generations a vivid way to understand and remember what happened.

One of the areas most affected by the disaster was Fukushima prefecture. Naraha in Fukushima was an evacuation zone until September of last year, but is now being rebuilt and repopulated. The people of Naraha wanted to capture this rebuilding process, so they borrowed the Street View Trekker as part of the Trekker loan program so they could show the world what Naraha looks like today and share their hopes for the future. 

In addition to the updated Street View imagery, we also have satellite and aerial imagery of the coast stretching from Hachinohe to Iwaki from before and after the disaster. As this timelapse with scenes from the Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures shows, the road to recovery is a long one. 

震災から 5 年。 震災前からこれまでの東北の姿。

Miyako was one of the areas most devastated by the tsunami, with waters reaching at least 37.9 meters above sea level. The seaside town was filled with homes and businesses before the earthquake struck in 2011. Everything was swept away by the tsunami. Clearing the rubble from the disaster took years; today, most of the new houses are being built on top of the mountain, not by the sea, in case of a future tsunami.