Before vs After: Japan's battered northeast remain little more than ravaged wastelands
Where once stood mountains of detritus, the splintered remains of wooden homes and shattered lives, occasional new buildings have crept up and some houses have been repaired.
Gleaming signs direct traffic along freshly laid roads as cars -- many of them new -- take people to villages and towns that have struggled to their feet.
The railway tracks that were twisted and torn by the powerful waves of March 11, 2011 have been re-laid and service has been resumed; maybe fewer people travel on the trains nowadays, but populations are smaller in any case, shrunk by tragedy and the need to move away.
Some jobs have returned; new fishing boats bob in bays and the local economy is showing signs of growth, spurred on by government cash that came in fits and starts.
The impromptu monuments the tsunami built -- ships dumped incongruously on three-storey buildings -- are largely gone, consigned now to photographs.
But memories of the huge waves that swept away whole villages refuse to fade; children still have nightmares, families still mourn their lost, and parts of the coast remain stripped of life.
In some areas, mostly those on higher ground, local communities are coming back to life, recovering from a disaster that killed nearly 19,000 people and sparked the world's worst nuclear accident in a generation.
"Returning here I remembered the fear that I felt when I was here two years ago. I remember thinking how if I had been here on the day the tsunami struck, I would probably have died." ~ AFP photographer Toshifumi Kitamura
In Kesennuma, one of the hardest-hit cities, seafood processing factories have been rebuilt, while sushi restaurants and karaoke bars have reopened in prefabricated huts in a makeshift shopping mall.
In Ishinomaki, wholesalers bellow out prices at a re-opened fish market where local fishermen land catches netted by their newly-purchased boats.
Up the coast in Otsuchi, however, piles of debris were still visible and the skeletons of buildings dotted vacant sites that have become overgrown with weeds.
Some communities have already given up the idea of returning to the tsunami zones and opted to move to higher ground to rebuild their towns.
But others remain paralysed, unable to agree on how to move forward. READ FULL STORY
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