This page is adapted from the original transcript of NHK’s TOMORROW, broadcast on November 9, 2015
A large model arrives at an elementary school.
It was built by local high school students.
“Is this okay?”
(Dai Sasaki: High school student)
(Hikaru Tatehora: High school student)
These are the members of the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team of the Machinery Course at Miyako Technical High School.
This handmade, three-dimensional model accurately recreates the coastal topography. They are going to use it to simulate a tsunami.
“This is the Akamae District, and here is the Tsugaruishi District.”
(Koichi Iioka: High school student)
This class is about disaster prevention. The high school students use their models to teach local elementary and junior high school students.
"It’s dangerous to escape inland. You have to escape to a higher place nearby.”
Daniel Kahl, who was once an English teacher in this area, has heard about these amazing high school students and he has come to report on their activities.
“I’ve been doing volunteer work up in this part of north-eastern Japan for the past four and half years so I’m pretty familiar with the area, but even so I had never heard of the Tsunami Simulation Modeling team. It sounds like a group of high-powered scientists or something like that but it is actually, the group actually consists of high-school students. And since I…you know, I am a former teacher I used to teach English in this part of the country, I’m really interested in what they’re doing. I mean…especially they are trying to improve the lives of people in this area or Japan or maybe even you know, can help another parts of the world. Let’s go see what they are doing.”
(Daniel Kahl: Reporter)
Miyako City in Iwate Prefecture is located on the eastern edge of Honshu, Japan’s main Island.
The city was hit by a huge 10-meter tsunami after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Daniel heard about the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team, so he has decided to visit Miyako Technical High School to interview the team members.
“Hi, everyone. Is this the tsunami simulation model? So this is the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team?”
"What are you doing, are you volunteers? Or is this a club?”
“It’s a part of our task-oriented research.”
(Dai Sasaki: Team member)
“I see. It's a part of your curriculum.”
Five 3rd-year students lead the team. They are budding technicians who hope to become machine designers.
“Is it 12? Try 12 volts.”
(Hiroshi Yamanome: Adviser, Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team)
"12 volts coming up.”
(Eiki Haga: Team member)
Today, they are testing the model, so Daniel decides to watch.
This is a 2,500:1 scale model of Central Miyako. This area, With a population of around 10,000, includes the City Hall, main roads and shopping streets.
They are going to simulate the tsunami caused by the magnitude 9 Great East Japan Earthquake. The water has been dyed to make the waves easier to see.
“The most densely populated part of the city gets inundated.”
Here it is again in slow motion. The tsunami surges over the wharf and embankments and smashes into the urban areas.
Moreover, you can see how the tsunami travels up the river by the City Hall, fails to go round the bend and breaches the embankment.
This is footage of the actual tsunami that hit four years ago. It rose from the river to flow into the town, overriding the 5-meter-high embankment.
Team member Hikaru Tatehora says that the model clarifies what happened that day.
“The momentum of the tsunami that came up the river pushed it over the embankment and inundated this area.”
A centrifugal force boosted the height and momentum of the water around the outside of the curve, causing it to flood into the town. The idea of making these tsunami simulation models actually goes back a few years.
They started making models in 2005, six years before the earthquake.
They have been making models of different coastal districts in the same area ever since.
So far, they have made 10 models.
They take the models to elementary and junior high schools in each district to hold disaster prevention demonstration classes.
They have won numerous prizes for their efforts. In 2013, they were awarded the Cabinet Office Disaster Prevention Achievement Award from the Prime Minister for playing a major role in raising regional disaster prevention awareness.
So, how are the models made?
First, plywood boards are cut accurately into the shape of the contour lines taken from local topographical maps.
The parts are then assembled. The thickness of the plywood re-creates the actual elevations of the land. Each layer is equivalent to around 20 meters of elevation.
The contours are then smoothed out with clay
and the model is painted to complete the terrestrial part of the model. As for the ocean areas….
“We have bathymetric charts for the ocean bottom. We use them to cut the plywood into shape.”
“The height of the mountains and depth of the sea have been made to scale. So it's been made with great three-dimensional accuracy.”
Dai Sasaki actually attended a class held by the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team himself when he was at elementary school.
Dai lives in the Taro District in the northern part of Miyako City.
He has been at school with Ryo Nakashima, another member of the team, ever since elementary school.
The two learned about the models two years before the earthquake. They attended a class held by the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team of Miyako Technical High School when they were in 6th Grade.
“So you saw this demonstration before the earthquake? What impression did you have?”
“Taro is famous for its embankments, but I remember the tsunami had no problem breaching them.”
This is the Taro District model that was used at the time. As a measure against tsunamis, huge 10-meter-high concrete embankments had been built near the sea in the shape of an “X”.
The people of Taro never imagined that a tsunami could override those defences.
The two classmates were in their 1st year at junior high school when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. They take Daniel to see the school they were attending at the time.
Immediately after the quake, the students took shelter in the playground. But then they realized that something was wrong beyond the embankments.
“We saw a high cloud of dust approaching from the embankments, and the teacher told us to run.”
This video was taken on the day of the earthquake. One of the embankments can be seen beyond the trees.
The monstrous tsunami breached the embankments and surged into the town. It was exactly as the boys had seen in the simulation.
This is the location of the school where they were at the time. It was 350 meters from the sea. The tsunami breached the embankments and flooded into town. The two boys clearly remembered the simulation they had seen.
“When we were told to run, we all started running together. But then I suddenly remembered the demonstration shown by the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team when we were at elementary school.”
They headed for the hill behind the school.
“We came down this path and then went up these steps.”
“Oh, there are steps?”
They all raced up the steps behind the school. They continued running higher and higher to escape….They could not believe their eyes when they turned round.
“In just a few minutes the townscape had totally changed. There were no buildings, just black water filled with rubble. It was no longer the town we knew.”
“I remember hearing loud explosions and car sirens going off.”
The boys were shocked to realize that the simulation had become reality.
“I instinctively headed for the hill, and I realized the importance of that demonstration. I’m so glad I saw it.”
“Until then, I’d only seen tiny tsunami three or four centi meters in height. But the tsunami that strack that day was 10 meters high. It came over the embankment exactly as in the demonstration. And that made me realize the importance of having seen it.”
Meanwhile, back at the Miyako Technical High School….
They have brought in a large tank.
This is actually a tsunami generator.
“Here we go.”
It is turned on….
An inner flap opens and releases a fixed volume of water.
The amount of water discharged can be changed by adjusting the voltage. This controls the size of the tsunami.
This tsunami generator combined with the three-dimensional model enables the simulation of very realistic tsunamis
Hiroshi Yamanome who began making the models is from Kamaishi City in this region, which is prone to tsunamis.
“The more I learned about them, the more I realized how scary they are. There have been huge tsunamis in the past, too.”
(Hiroshi Yamanome: Adviser, Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team)
The coastal area of Sanriku, where Miyako City is located, has been struck by many earthquakes and tsunamis since ancient times.
Hiroshi wants to teach children about the scariness of tsunamis and raise their awareness for disaster prevention. That is what prompted him to begin making models of various areas around Miyako City and taking them to elementary and junior high schools.
Six years after he began making the models, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck.
Did his disaster prevention classes really help?
Hiroshi had held classes at 23 schools before the 3.11 earthquake. He visited each school to check whether the students were safe.
“I was so glad that there wasn’t a single victim at any of the schools among the students, children and staff.”
All the children who had attended his classes had managed to escape safely from the tsunami.
A former member of the Modeling Team is now working to save people’s lives.
This is fireman Akira Sato.
In 2008, before the earthquake, he made a model of Yamada-machi, next to Miyako City.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, the town was devastated not only by the tsunami, but also by fires.
"Did the model you made at high school help you when the tsunami came?”
"When I headed from Miyako to Yamada-machi, I remembered the tsunami simulation. I had an image in my mind of which roads would be safe, passable, and which roads I had to use in rescue operations.”
(Akira Sato: Fireman)
Akira devoted himself wholeheartedly to firefighting and rescue operations for one week after the earthquake, without even going home. He strongly believes in the value of the disaster prevention demonstrations.
“Today’s high school students have actually experienced a tsunami. I want them to combine this experience with their knowledge, and share it with everyone, to help prevent disasters.”
"Make sure the hand cart doesn’t move.”
(Dai Sasaki: Team member)
All the current members of the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team experienced the earthquake.
Eiki Haga in particular, who lives in Central Miyako, had firsthand experience of how frightening a tsunami can be.
He tells Daniel that he was at a junior high school friend’s sushi restaurant when the earthquake struck.
"Hello. I heard that Eiki came running here to escape the tsunami.”
(Tetsuya Suzuki: Restaurant owner)
“The water actually came up to here, so you ran upstairs?”
They immediately escaped upstairs as the tsunami was approaching.
"What was it like?”
“I could see the water rising from the second floor.”
This video was taken by Tetsuya Suzuki, the restaurant owner. The water level rose very quickly, and the road outside was soon completely submerged.
"It was scary. The water was black with sludge… Big cars were being swept away as though they were nothing.”
The tsunami stopped just below the second floor, so it was a close shave for Eiki. He joined the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team to make use of his experience.
“I’ve seen a tsunami up close, and I’m also a member of the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team, so I want to promote disaster prevention and tell as many people as possible of the dangers and terror of tsunamis.”
It is late August and the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team is about to start a new semester. Over four years have passed since the earthquake, and one thing is bugging the members. The students this time are elementary school 6th Graders. They were only six or seven at the time, so some of them do not recall the tsunami very well.
"It was nearly five years ago. The elementary school kids were very young then, so may not remember much. What are you going to talk about?”
“I want them to become aware of the dangers of tsunamis, and learn to protect themselves, so that they’ll evacuate before a tsunami hits.”
"It’s now the following day, and boys from Miyako Tech high school are getting ready for their presentation here at the elementary school.”
“They’re just pouring in the water.”
The high school students are busy preparing for the tsunami demonstration.
"Thank you for coming!”
(Elementary school students)
The class begins.
Do the children actually remember the tsunami?
“Do you remember the tsunami?”
“Was it scary?”
The children only have vague memories.
The high school students want them to understand the horrors of tsunamis, so that they will be able to respond to them calmly.
They decided to exhibit photos of the city at the time, so that the children will realize that the tsunami is a problem that is close to home.
"First, this is Miyako Station, and here is the City Hall.”
They use the model to show which parts of their city will be damaged, and to make the children think about how they can escape.
The model they have brought this time is the 2,500: 1 scale model of Central Miyako, made after the earthquake.
“This is Kuwagasaki District where you all live. This district wasn’t protected by an embankment, so it suffered great damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake.”
The white building at the foot of the hill is the elementary school where they are now. It is 330 meters from the sea.
“Please watch carefully to figure out where you have to go to escape.”
The tsunami generator is switched on…
The children are surprised to see the tsunami reach their school.
They take notes with serious expressions on their faces.
"We can be sure that earthquakes and tsunamis will strike again. But no one knows when. Remember to keep carrying out drills to learn how to evacuate. That brings us to the end of the class. Thank you for your attention.”
"I learned the importance of height rather than distance when running away.”
"I've never seen a real tsunami, but it was good having the model show me what will happen.”
These children live in a coastal town. They will no doubt remember this disaster prevention class for the rest of their lives.
The Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team has been making models for 10 years. This year they decided to take on a new challenge.
They began making models of regions beyond Tohoku.
This is Susaki City in Kochi Prefecture. It was not affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, but there are fears the town will be hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami sometime in the future.
A high school in Susaki asked to have a model made so that they, too, could start their own disaster prevention classes. The activities of the Tsunami Simulation Modeling Team of the Machinery Course at Miyako Technical High School are now being passed on to the next generation around the nation.
“The pacific coast of the north eastern Japan is said to be especially vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunami. But it’s been almost five years since the last big one hit. And frankly speaking, a lot of the young people around here just don’t remember how terrible the Tsunami actually was. That’s the goal of the students here at this high school. They are Tsunami Simulation Modeling team here at this technical high school. They make the models, they do the presentations for younger people to remind them so that they don’t forget about tsunami and how they have to be aware and prepare for tsunami whenever they might come. Their ultimate dream of course is that other schools will also begin to make the models and they will do their presentations in other parts of the country. And uh…maybe one day, their idea and their concepts for raising tsunami awareness will spread all over the country and maybe, to other parts of the world as well.”