Japan tsunami: Stories and signs of hope

A year after the biggest earthquake on record to hit Japan and the tsunami which followed in its wake, Roland Buerk visits some of the places hit by the disaster to see what progress has been made in rebuilding towns and lives.

The Otsuchi vending machines

After the earthquake, then the tsunami, Otsuchi was ravaged by a fire which destroyed many of the surviving buildings.

All that remains of the old town are the foundations.

But roads into the town have been re-laid to make the clean-up a little easier - and vending machines installed for the workers have become a beacon of progress as the area struggles to return to normality.

"This vending machine is a sign of normality in this wasteland"

Japan's most famous tree

The sea wall in Rikuzentakata was destroyed by the tsunami, and more than 3,000 people are still missing from the town.

The search for bodies along the coast continues, with many families still hopeful they will get to give their loved ones a proper burial.

But standing behind the new sea wall is a lone tree - the only survivor from a whole pine forest laid waste by the wave, and now a nationwide symbol of resilience and hope.

The one remaining tree has become famous throughout Japan

The building where people's lives are stored

Rikuzentakata's city hall looks as if the tsunami happened much more recently than 12 months ago.

The building is littered with sand, debris and the remains of houses - and two smashed cars sitting in the lobby where the tsunami waters left them.

Amongst the rubbish are school bags and photo albums, pieces of people's lives recovered from the wreckage outside and given shelter from the elements until their owners can come to reclaim them.

There is still plenty of damage left to clear in Rikuzentakata, a year on from the disaster

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