Large-scale managed retreat and structural protection following the 2011 Japan tsunami

  • Nicholas PinterEmail author
  • Mikio Ishiwateri
  • Atsuko Nonoguchi
  • Yumiko Tanaka
  • David Casagrande
  • Susan Durden
  • James Rees
Short Communicatiion


On March 11, 2011, a magnitude MW 9.0 thrust earthquake ruptured the Japan Trench along the northwest coast of Honshu and generated a tsunami that killed 15,894 people, left 2585 missing (as of March 2017) and destroyed more than 130,000 houses. The purpose of this paper is to review the current status and scope of tsunami recovery in the Tohoku region, focusing on investments in structural protection measures as well as extensive implementation of non-structural “managed retreat.” Japan’s response to the 2011 tsunami contrasts with approaches to disaster management in the USA and elsewhere in the world. New structural protections built in Japan since 2011 include a massive concrete-lined tsunami barrier system, stretching > 400 km of coast, at a cost of at least $8 billion. Managed retreat is a relatively new area of research and risk management focusing on withdrawal of infrastructure and population from at-risk areas. Japan’s post-tsunami disaster response may represent the single largest case of disaster-related managed retreat in recent world history. Approximately 145,000 homes, including whole new towns, are being built outside the tsunami hazard zone. Disaster managers worldwide should look to Japan for lessons learned from the investment and efforts since 2011.


Tsunami Flooding Disaster recovery Disaster preparation Risk management Managed retreat 



  1. Ganapati NE, Ganapati S (2008) Enabling participatory planning after disasters: a case study of the World Bank’s housing reconstruction in Turkey. J Am Plan As 75:41–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Hauer ME, Evans JM, Mishra DR (2016) Millions projected to be at risk from sea-level rise in the continental United States. Nat Clim Change 6(7):691–695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Hofstede G (1983) National cultures in four dimensions: a research-based theory of cultural differences among nations. Int Stud Manag Org 13(1/2):46–74Google Scholar
  4. Japan Reconstruction Agency (2017) The road to recovery: recovery and reconstruction from the great east Japan earthquake. Accessed 6 Apr 2019
  5. Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (MSEMA) (1999) Stemming the tide of flood losses: stories of success from the history of Missouri’s flood mitigation program. State Emergency Management Agency, Jefferson CityGoogle Scholar
  6. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. (2018) Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters. Accessed 6 Apr 2019
  7. Pinter N (2005) Policy Forum: one step forward, two steps back on U.S. floodplains. Science 308:207–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ranghieri F, Ishiwatari M (eds) (2014) Learning from megadisasters: lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake. The World Bank, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  9. Tobin JJ, Wu DYH, Davidson DH (1989) Preschool in three cultures: Japan, China, and the United States. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  10. US Government Accountability Office (GAO) (2013) High-risk series: an update. Government Accountability Office, WashingtonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Center for Watershed SciencesUniversity of California at DavisDavisUSA
  2. 2.Graduate School of Frontier SciencesUniversity of TokyoTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Japan Women’s Network for Disaster Risk ReductionTokyoJapan
  4. 4.Kokusaikogyo Co. Ltd.TokyoJapan
  5. 5.Josai International UniversityTogane-shiJapan
  6. 6.Department of Anthropology and SociologyLehigh UniversityBethlehemUSA
  7. 7.Institute for Water ResourcesUS Army Corps of EngineersAlexandriaUSA

Personalised recommendations