The world turned upside down for Kumamoto on April 14, 2016. An earthquake measuring shindo (degree of shaking) 6.5 on the Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale (near the upper end) was followed by an even stronger one of magnitude 7.3 two days after the initial tremor (as a reference, the March 11, 2011 Fukushima quake registered 7.1 on the shindo scale), resulting in 50 deaths and over 3,000 injuries. More than 1,000 buildings were seriously damaged and water, gas and other utilities stopped due to the tremors.
Fast forward two years later and I finally had a chance to visit the prefecture and see how the area and its people were doing — including visits to popular tourist attractions and witnessing the earthquake ruins.
A crumbling stone wall on the grounds of Kumamoto Castle. Photo: CARA LAM
Kumamoto City was the first destination in my trip. When I visited during this years Golden Week holidays, its shopping streets were packed with tourists, restaurants were packed with tables available by reservation only and an Oktoberfest beer festival was pumping festive energies throughout the main streets of the city. At first, it looked like the city had mostly returned to its pre-earthquake condition, but encountering a big area of scaffolding at Kumamoto Castle convinced me otherwise.
Originally one of Japans top three castles (alongside those in Himeji and Matsumoto) — with 98-square-meter grounds — the hilltop Kumamoto Castle is one of the sites that suffered the most damage from the 2016 earthquake. Currently, more than 80 percent of the castle grounds are inaccessible and covered in scaffolding. Throughout the recommended walking route, one can see numerous structures that have collapsed, walls that have crumbled and rock pieces that have piled up.
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