A combination of time-series satellite imagery, helicopter-borne video footage and field observation is used to identify the impact of a major tsunami on a low-lying coastal zone located in eastern Japan. A comparison is made between the coast protected by armoured 'engineered' sea walls and the coast without. Changes are mapped from before and after imagery, and sedimentary processes identified from the video footage. The results are validated by field observations. The impact along a 'natural' coast, with minimal defences, is erosion focussed on the back beach. Along coasts with hard engineered protection constructed to defend against erosion, the presence of three to six metre high concrete-faced embankments results in severe erosion on their landward faces. The erosion is due to the tsunami wave accelerating through a hydraulic jump as it passes over the embankment, resulting in the formation of a ditch into which the foundations collapse. Engineered coastal defences are thus found to be small defence against highly energetic tsunami waves that overtop them.There is little erosion (or sedimentation) of the whole beach, and where active, it mainly forms V-shaped channels. These channels are probably initiated during tsunami inflow and then further developed during tsunami backflow. Tsunami backflow on such a low lying area takes place energetically as sheet flow immediately after tsunami flooding has ceased. Subsequently, when the water level landward of the coastal dune ridges falls below their elevation, flow becomes confined to rivers and breaches in the coast formed during tsunami inflow. Enigmatic, short lived, 'strand lines' are attributed to the slow fall of sea level after such a major tsunami. Immediately after the tsunami coastal reconstruction begins, sourced from the sediment recently flushed into the sea by tsunami backflow.
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