Along the waterfront, a new 12.5-meter (41 foot) seawall is taking shape – its height, more than double that of the old one.
"Prior to the disaster, our contingency plans evolved around how to avoid catastrophe, but the reality is you can't," Toba says. We need to focus on how to minimize damage." Like many cities in Japan's northeast coast, Rikuzentakata has chosen not to build at all at sea level anymore.
The family planned to evacuate together, after tsunami advisories were triggered.
But 25 year-old Yuki, a volunteer firefighter, chose to go help other victims.
"For them, it's like they have new sons or daughters outside the city," Obayashi said.
Yuko and Junichi Kikuchi thought they had been spared the worst, when the tremors stopped on March 11, 2011.
When the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck their hometown of Rikuzentakata, the Kikuchis were at home with their two daughters and son, Yuki.
Obayashi and his wife moved from Tanzania, where he was managing government projects for the Japan International Cooperation Agency, to help with the recovery efforts.
Now working in the city's tourism office, Obayashi has been tasked with attracting visitors to help revive Rikuzentakata's economy.