KAMAISHI, Iwate Prefecture--Children enrolled at the Unosumai Elementary School and Kamaishi Higashi Junior High School here face a daily lesson in disaster preparedness.

To reach the school buildings, the kids have to climb a huge number of stairs. In the case of the junior high school, there are 171 steps. The elementary school is located at a slightly lower elevation, so there are fewer. But they still face an arduous upward hike to get to school.

Both school buildings were destroyed in the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake that generated towering tsunami in the Tohoku region.

Incredibly, none of the 570 or so children at the two schools perished, in what is known as the "Miracle of Kamaishi."

However, 580 local residents died or were listed as missing after the disaster.

The school buildings in the Unosumai district facing Otsuchi Bay were rebuilt two years ago.

They are now situated at elevations of between 18 and 26 meters above sea level.

Some elementary children at the Unosumai school were born after the disaster.

The stairway to the schools was made deliberately wide to provide plenty of space for the children and to be conspicuous from the downtown area, allowing the children using it to be a symbol of the area's recovery from the disaster.

Yoko Yamakage, 32, is the mother of two children, a daughter who is a sixth-grader in the elementary school and a son now in his first year as a junior high school student.

“(My children) head out each day to a safe space. I have such a sense of relief," she said.