Fourteen-year-old Koyuki Iwama plays a flute near where her grandfather used to live. He gave her the flute as a gift, but never had a chance to hear her play, as the tsunami claimed his life.

Just above the din of tractors and backhoes sifting through rubble, Usuzawa Ryoichi begins to sob. In the two years since the tsunami in Japan, the 64-year-old has only returned a handful of times to the place where his home used to be.

Before we even begin to talk, emotions overtake him. Standing on the foundation of his former house and looking at the vast expanse of what used to be a busy residential neighbourhood in Otsuchi, his body shakes, as tears mist over his glasses. His beloved dog Taro, whom he rescued from the black churning waters, is clutched tightly in his arms, whimpering.

"When I come here, I see all the faces of the people being washed away, every single one of them, my neighbours, my friends. I can't shake them."

Like many survivors, Usuzawa lives in a state of semi-depression. If the government had rebuilt and provided more jobs, he believes he would be doing much better. Instead, he and his wife try to find meaning in a temporary shelter. "We've watched families break apart. Domestic abuse is on the rise too, it's just a mess."

Two years since Japan's worst disaster in modern times, 310,000 people are still without permanent housing.

It's become public knowledge that of the $200bn pledged by the government for reconstruction, some has been used to fund things such as advertising projects in Tokyo for unrelated building projects, or caught up in the country's infamous red tape.

Since winning election last December, Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has overhauled the agency in charge of reconstruction. The former governing party, the DPJ, created the bureau after the disaster to bypass the government's bureaucracy. So far, though, many say it has failed to carry out its mission.

'We are doing our best'

The reconstruction office for Otsuchi is a two-hour drive away, in Morioka, the capital of the prefecture. Taiji Yasuda, who has been second-in-charge since last July, admits there have been problems. But he blames a shortage of staff, saying he has fewer than 50 people working on rebuilding communities along a lengthy stretch of coastline.

"We understand that people are undergoing extreme social stress and we want to hear from them," Yasuda says. "But we also want to tell them we are speeding up construction, that everything will be faster."

Authorities say progress has been slow because of disagreements over land rights and fierce debates over how exactly to rebuild. "Yes, there have been challenges, but the planning stage is over now," says Yasuda. "We have already started building permanent homes. In the next few years you will see a great deal of change. We are doing our best."

Usuzawa, though, is sceptical. A former government worker, he says he's tried many times, with other residents, to present to planners their ideas on how to rebuild their town. Instead, he says they've been met with silence.

"They've hired design companies from far-away places like Tokyo, and we see these people every night spending their high salaries entertaining themselves in our communities. That is our money, that should be going directly to helping our people."

Usuzawa says many of the youth have left for jobs elsewhere because there is simply nothing for them to do here. Deeply attached to his town, he refuses to leave. "You feel like a crazed person, like you could explode with anger at anytime ... They tell us they're making progress … We don't see it."

Aljazeera's Steve Chao reports from Outsuchi, Japan (Twitter @SteveChaoSC )
Cameraman/Editor: Matthew Allard (Twitter @mattaljazeera )
Producer: Aya Asakura (Twitter @AyaAsakura )

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