Three years after Hokkaido quake, hard-hit communities facing depopulation

Japan Times -- Sep 14
Three years have passed since a massive earthquake struck Hokkaido’s eastern Iburi region, killing 44 people, but some hard-hit areas are still suffering from the aftermath of the disaster in the form of depopulation.

There are four districts in the town of Atsuma — Takaoka, Tomisato, Yoshino, and Horonai — where a total of 29 people died due to landslides and other causes. Yet there is growing concern that these scarcely populated towns may disappear as their aging communities pass away.

Many residents, most of them older, moved to central Atsuma after they gave up rebuilding their damaged homes. Now the population in the four districts has declined from about 220 before the earthquake to around 120.

Reconstruction projects are underway to rebuild areas damaged by the earthquake, which recorded the highest intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale for the first time in Hokkaido. Despite such projects, the prospect of reviving the community is bleak.

Looking at a slope near his home that was damaged by a landslide triggered by the 2018 quake, Yutaka Hashimoto, 63, a farmer from the Takaoka district of the town of Atsuma, shares the bleak outlook.