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Tsunami survivors: Waiting to rebuild on new land

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Masanori Sato, 34, looks at the empty land where his village used to be in Minamisanriku, Japan on Feb 4, 2012, near his half destroyed house. The 2011 tsunami swept away 34 houses in the village. Only three survived including Sato's house.

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

The remains of the town hall stands in Minamisanriku, Japan on Feb 5, 2012. The March 11, 2011 tsunami swept away the entire town, killing over 800 including 20 who were in the building at the time it struck.

Kuni Takahashi

Masanori Sato plays a guitar in his debri-filled-house in MInamisanriku, Japan on March 31, 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan on March 11.

Kuni Takahashi reports:

Masanori Sato, 34, is the son of a Shinto priest from the village of Minamisanriku in Japan's Miyagi Prefecture. He has been thinking about the future of his community in the Nagashizu district since the tsunami on March 11, 2011 swept away 34 houses there -- leaving only his family’s house and two others standing.

“At first I didn’t have a clue where to start, but I slowly began to see things clearly after moving out of the evacuation center into temporary housing," Sato said recently. "I felt myself settling down a bit. I want to put our village together again. The land has changed but the people are not all gone. We are talking about reviving our community just like it used to be – including both good things and bad things.”

People from all over the country came to the disaster-hit area to help last year --providing food, medical services, cleaning up, etc. The townspeople were impressed by the volunteers' selfless attitude and Sato said they made enormous contributions during the first stage of the recovery. Though the number of volunteers had dwindled, there are still a few helping with the reconstruction and supporting seniors in temporary housing.

Now the focus has shifted to long-term recovery. Sato and his neighbors are hoping that the government will allow them to rebuild their community on a nearby hill because Nagashizu is situated too low for rebuilding now. His family is still living in temporary housing about 2 miles away while they continue the renovations needed to make their house livable again. Even if the government approves the new site on the hill, they expect it to be three to five years before the community can resettle on new land.

But Sato is willing to wait.

“Being a tsunami survivor changed my way of thinking. I guess I learned from it. I realized how important the community is to help each other. I was too selfish before.”

Kuni Takahashi, a photojournalist based in Mumbai, returned to his native Japan in 2011 shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. He recently revisited some of the people he met there— as well as some of the people that msnbc.com profiled in its After the Wave series -- to find out how they were doing nearly a year after the devastating natural disaster.