Sadly, the people along the coast had gone a long time without a big tsunami, and forgot about the terrible power behind those waves. We were watching a show about the earthquake a few months ago, and a Japanese man mentioned a stone marker up on a rise above the ruins of one of the towns. He said that the marker was placed as a warning, after the last big tsunami had reached that level, for people NOT to build below that marker. This tsunami reached that marker, as well, and if the people had heeded the warning, many wouldn't have died.
When the tsunami struck last year, the barriers were quickly lowered into place and blocked the wave. The village's only fatality was a fishing boat captain who'd gone to check on his boat.
The village quickly became a staging area for the rescue efforts in that region. About two weeks after the quake they showed pictures of the mayor's grave and it was completely covered with flowers from those he'd saved with his actions thirty years ago.