A year ago we released Street View imagery of areas in Northeastern Japan that were affected by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Our hope was that the 360-degree panoramas would provide a comprehensive, accurate and easy-to-use way for people around the world to view the damage to the region by enabling a virtual walk through of the disaster zones.

The panoramas were only the start of our digital archiving project. Last month we took the next step—using the technology behind Business Photos to photograph the inside of buildings in Northeastern Japan that were heavily damaged but still standing. We worked with four city governments in the Tōhoku area to photograph more than 30 buildings, and today we’re bringing this imagery to Google Maps and our Memories for the Future site. The new imagery enables you to walk through the buildings and switch between floors to get a first-hand glimpse at the extent of the destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami.

The timing of the project was critical. There has been a strong debate in these areas whether to keep the buildings up as a permanent reminder of the tragedy or to tear them down to allow emotional wounds to heal. After long consultations with their citizens, many local governments have decided to move forward with demolishing the buildings. Knowing this, we quickly moved to photograph the buildings before they started to be dismantled.

The panorama below shows an elementary school very close to the ocean. Thankfully, all the students survived the disaster as they had been well drilled to rush to escape at the sound of tsunami warnings.

Other sites include Rikuzentakata city public housing, a building that physically demonstrates the heights of the tsunami wave. Everything up to the fourth floor is completely ruined, but the fifth floor remains mostly unscathed.

Panorama of Rikuzentakata City Public Housing

We’ve also captured imagery of Ukedo Elementary School and a few other buildings in Namie Town—located in the restricted area (PDF) within 20km of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In the elementary school, you can see holes in the gym floor, where a graduation banner still hangs in the gym, though the ceremony never took place.

Panorama of Ukedo Elementary School

We’ll continue to photograph more buildings in two Iwate Prefecture cities, Ōfunato and Kamaishi, over the coming weeks. By the end of the year, we also hope to complete the collection of imagery from five new cities in the Miyagi prefecture. We look forward to making this new imagery available as soon as it’s ready to pay tribute to both the tragedy of the disaster and the current efforts to rebuild. City governments in Northeastern Japan that are interested in this digital archiving project are welcome to contact us through this form.

The Official Google Blog

Back in July, we announced our initiative to digitally archive the areas of Northeastern Japan affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Today, we’re making good on that promise—after driving more than 44,000 kilometers through the affected regions, 360-degree panoramic imagery of those areas is now available through the Street View feature in Google Maps. The images can also be viewed via a special website called “Build the Memory,” where you can easily compare before and after shots of the towns changed by these events.

A virtual tour via Street View profoundly illustrates how much these natural disasters have transformed these communities. If you start inland and venture out toward the coast, you’ll see the idyllic countryside change dramatically, becoming cluttered with mountains of rubble and debris as you get closer to the ocean. In the cities, buildings that once stood proud are now empty spaces.

In the bottom left corner of each image you’ll also see a month and year that tells you when a particular photograph was taken. When looking at images of the magnificent cities side-by-side with images of the ruins left in their place, this additional context demonstrates how truly life-changing this tragedy has been for those who live there and witnessed the destruction of their homes, neighborhoods and even entire districts. This timestamp feature has been the most requested Street View feature for the last few years, and it is now available on Street View imagery worldwide. Professionals such as historians, architects, city planners and tourism boards—as well as regular users including travelers and home-buyers—can now get a sense of how fresh the online photos are for a locations that interests them.

In the case of the post-tsunami imagery of Japan, we hope this particular digital archiving project will be useful to researchers and scientists who study the effects of natural disasters. We also believe that the imagery is a useful tool for anyone around the world who wants to better understand the extent of the damage. Seeing the street-level imagery of the affected areas puts the plight of these communities into perspective and ensures that the memories of the disaster remain relevant and tangible for future generations.

(Cross-posted on the Lat Long blog)

The Official Google Blog


Despite becoming the fastest selling gadget of all time in 2010, Microsoft’s Kinect accessory has failed to make its mark in Japan, with sales of the device falling short of the company’s initial expectations on the back of limited demand for its Xbox 360 console in the country, the WSJ reports.

The head of Microsoft’s Japanese videogame business Takashi Sensui told reporters at Tokyo Game Show that the company’s Xbox Live service will be compatible with the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, which could drive demand for its console products and accessories, also noting the limited success of the Kinect:

“To be honest, Kinect’s sales haven’t met our initial expectations in Japan, but we have received good reviews from people who have used it.”

Microsoft has found it difficult to capture the hearts of Japanese gamers, especially as it fights competition from homegrown gaming giants Sony and Nintendo. However, the company has now sold more than 55 million Xbox 360 units worldwide since it launched in 2005, with the Kinect selling more than 10 million units since its launch last year.

To improve its image in the country, Sensui believes Microsoft will need to encompass a greater number of gamers, introducing different ranges of games to appeal to “core gamers” and families alike.

TNW Aggregated Feed

Messages for Japan at Tanabata in Sendai

A month after this spring’s devastating earthquake in Japan, we created a site where people from around the world could submit messages of hope in their own languages and have them automatically translated into Japanese. From Paris to Dubai to Manila, nearly 30,000 messages have been posted through messagesforjapan.com.

This past weekend marked the celebration of Tanabata in Sendai, the largest city in the disaster area and home to one of the most famous festivals in the country. People often celebrate Tanabata, which means “Evening of the Seventh,” by writing wishes on tanzaku (small strips of paper) and hanging them on bamboo branches. This year, these paper strips displayed some of the messages of hope submitted through the site, and festival participants added their own messages to those from around the world.

We’ve updated messagesforjapan.com so you can see photos of people gathering for Tanabata in Sendai—reading, creating and hanging messages in the area surrounding the disaster earlier this year.

The Official Google Blog

This week, our own Distinguished Engineer Ken Thompson was awarded the Japan Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in science, in the category of Information and Communications. Established in 1985, the Japan Prize is awarded annually to esteemed scientists around the world for outstanding achievement in the field of science and technology that also aids in the advancement of peace and prosperity.

Ken shares the prize along with his former collaborator, Dennis Ritchie, for their development of the operating system UNIX. They both worked at Bell Labs in 1969, when they began developing an open source operating system that emphasized portability, small modules and superior design. UNIX served as a core infrastructure element in the information field, including the Internet, and operating systems carrying on the UNIX philosophy are now being used everywhere from mobile phones to supercomputers. As Foundation Chair Hiroyuki Yoshikawa noted, UNIX has been “a major driving force behind the development of the information age” with clear overarching benefits to society.

Traditionally, the Japan Prize is awarded during a week-long celebration in Tokyo—even their Majesties, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, participate. Given the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan two months ago, the Foundation understandably concluded that the ceremonies should not be held this year. However, the Emperor insisted that the Foundation should travel to the U.S. to present the award to Ken and Dennis.

At the May 17 ceremony at the Googleplex, Ken received his recognition in front of a packed room of appreciative Googlers. The Foundation also recognized our crisis response team for their Person Finder project among other contributions, which helped Japanese citizens trying to locate lost friends and family after the March devastation.

From left to right: Vint Cerf, Ken Thompson, Hiroyuki Yoshikawa

In a short video about Ken and Dennis shown during the ceremony, Ken made this observation: “Research and development are two different things. Development has clear goals, but research is goal-less because it is the act of discovering something new. My advice to researchers is to continue enjoying the research at hand….UNIX resulted from research into new things we were merely interested in. We were very lucky it turned out to be very fruitful.”

In his acceptance remarks, Ken told one of the funniest stories I have ever heard about a pet alligator that he brought to Bell Labs and that later got loose. It is on the recording of the ceremonies—check back for the video. Congratulations again to Ken and all the other Japan Prize winners and here’s to continued innovation in science and technology that fosters peace and prosperity around the world.

The Official Google Blog

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