Return to Tohoku

Today marks exactly the fourth year since the east coast of Japan was devastated by the so-called Great East Japan earthquake and the tsunami that it caused. To remember the disaster and pay his respects, writer and photographer Lee Basford travelled to the area only 70 kilometers away from the epicenter – named Tohoku – where after four years the locals are still rebuilding. One of the cities in the region most affected was Rikuzentakata. The ruthless waves destroyed basically everything, and what remains now is an overwhelming emptiness. The city was noted for its tree-lined coast – regarded as one of the most beautiful landscapes in Japan. But after the disaster, only 1 of the 70.000 trees remained. It became known as The Miracle Pine. A year after the disaster took place, in 2012, Rapha Continental shot a film in the devastated area, and there’s been an annual ride in Tohoku since, organized by Daisuke Kitayama, the film’s director, and Seiichi Watanabe, a Continental rider. These outtakes of Basford and his friend’s experiences of riding through the area show both the beauty and hardships of riding, one never really disconnects with the surrounding you are riding in – which in this case resulted in an unfiltered perspective on the struggles of the area.

One of the first experiences Basford has while of the road:

Evidence of the disaster is everywhere. Most of the areas affected have been neatly flattened to make way for new construction. Many people, including the elderly, still live in temporary housing and, with no chance of employment, younger folk have been forced outside the region. The problems are serious and ongoing, but largely forgotten by the media and government as they turn their attentions to the Olympic Games – due to be hosted by Tokyo in 2020 – and more positive news.


We retrace our route back to the road to regain our original pace, following a river that takes us up above the Ryori Dam, a spectacular sight. Watching this great expanse of water with no one around, it’s hard to connect these tranquil green forests with the violence once unleashed by nature just a short ride away.

And finally:

We descend into a wasteland of terracotta soil, eventually leading us back to Rikuzentakata City. Once with a population of 22,000, Rikuzentakata now feels almost deserted. Despite what was lost in the city, there’s an in-built strength and optimism in everyone I meet. The people in this region are keen for outsiders to visit, to bear witness and, more importantly, to ensure they are not forgotten.

Such a beautiful tribute to both the people of Tohoku and the beauty of riding.

Photography by Lee Basford.

For the whole impressive story see here.