The first time I drove into Sendai, Japan, I thought I had arrived in a small town. It was March 13, two days after last year’s earthquake and tsunami killed up to 20,000 people and destroyed hundreds of miles of coastline in northeast Japan. Only a handful of buildings were lit up the night I drove in; the otherwise dark streets were devoid of people and cars. When the late winter sun weakly rose the next day, it didn’t bring the heartbeat of a major regional city with it, but the dull pulse of a lonely outpost on life support.
The streets of Sendai today bear no resemblance to the lanes I drove along that night last year. On a Thursday evening, the city’s outdoor malls were flush with a trench-coated, post-work crowd and restaurant touts trying to lure them into their eateries. Kokubuncho, the city’s entertainment district of bars, cabarets and izakaya, was aflame in artificial light, catering to the flood of construction workers who have come from all over Japan to get in on the rebuilding that – 10 months after the disaster – is just getting started. Businesses from watch shops to hostess bars to real estate developers are says sales are up 200% over this time last year.
Read the rest of the story: Dispatch from Sendai: Boom and Bust After Japan’s Tsunami.