Japan boasts striking coastline, but perhaps none is as hauntingly beautiful as the area called Sanriku in the northeastern Tohoku region.
This is where the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, and the massive tsunami that followed, inflicted the most damage.
Now, efforts are under way to revitalize the area with a nature conservation area, or "geopark."
The hope is that visitors can enjoy and learn from the scars left behind by geological activity--whether it be geological layers from the ancient past, or ravaged landscape caused by more recent activity.
The Environment Ministry plans to designate a vast rugged area along Tohoku's Pacific deeply indented coastline as a nature reserve. The park will span three prefectures and be linked by nature trails.
The creation of a "reconstruction national park" is intended to symbolize recovery from the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake last year.
The most scenic spot along the rugged coastline is Matsushima, a group of small islands in Miyagi Prefecture that is blanketed with pine trees and regarded as one of three most beautiful settings in Japan.
In December, the town of Matsushima incorporated the "geopark concept" in its disaster recovery plan, in an effort to make it the 21st such site recognized by the Japan Geopark Committee.
Hiromitsu Taniguchi, professor emeritus at Tohoku University, has been at the forefront of efforts to bring the geopark concept into the public realm.
"Eventually," Taniguchi said, "I want to get all eight cities and seven towns on the Miyagi Prefecture coast to accept our concept and use it to revitalize the area as a Minami-Sanriku Coast Geopark."
The town of Matsushima plans to brief its residents on progress at a meeting in July.
Miyagi Prefecture's coastline retains valuable geological formations and features. They include ria coastal inlets, essentially drowned river valleys that remain open to the sea, and geological strata that were formed 300 million years ago when Japan was situated below the equator.
Taniguchi says the devastation left by the tsunami, along with destroyed towns due to the Great East Japan Earthquake, offer valuable lessons.
He is keen to promote the area for disaster readiness training.
In February 2011, just prior to the great earthquake, local governments and other entities in Iwate Prefecture organized the Iwate Sanriku Geopark Promotion Conference.
Although its activities were put on hold due to the disaster, officials are set to revive it "to pass on our memories of the earthquake and tsunami to future generations."
Participants will start out by doing field surveys and selecting tour courses ahead of applying for geopark status in April 2013.
Hitoshi Ito, who heads the settlement and resident exchange division for the prefecture's northern coast, is enthusiastic.
"We want to tell the world about Sanriku by getting the public involved in a way that promotes the area."
The idea has strong backing in Tokyo.
At the end of fiscal 2011, an Environment Ministry council decided that conserving the Sanriku coast's rich natural environment would help with the area's reconstruction.
It announced that the natural environment would be a model for "a world co-existing with nature."
It was decided that a roughly 300-kilometer area of national and quasi-national parks, prefectural parks and such--stretching from Aomori to Miyagi prefectures--would be reorganized as the Sanriku Reconstruction National Park.
The ministry will create nature trails from Aomori to Fukushima so hikers and others can experience the gorgeous views on a route that includes the Sanriku Reconstruction National Park.
During this fiscal year, the Environment Ministry plans to conduct surveys and provide information to local governments in the region.
In fiscal 2013, it will designate the first sites that will comprise the Sanriku Reconstruction National Park. The ministry will preserve damaged facilities and leave boulders swept in by tsunami so that visitors can learn about the dangers that natural disasters pose.
The nature trails will serve as escape routes to high ground in case of tsunami and other emergencies.
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