On its surface, the plan seems like an environmentalist's dream come true: Take wreckage from the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of Honshu and pile it along the washed-out coastline; cover the crumbled concrete and broken wood with soil; then top it all with trees.

Communities in Tohoku have been creating "disaster-prevention" forests similar to these (minus the raised banks) since at least the 17th century, but few withstood 2011's huge tsunami. By restoring them, coastal settlements get natural protection from wind and sand — while waste becomes the literal foundation of a safe and "green" recovery."

That's the basic outline of Midori no Kizuna (Green Connections), a Forestry Agency project getting under way on Pacific beaches from Aomori Prefecture in the north to Chiba Prefecture bordering Tokyo.