Translated Report From Japan

A Conservator’s Viewpoint: Report from Disaster-stricken areas


From April 4th to the 8th, I accompanied a specialist researching to make a registry to visit shelters and stricken areas in Iwate prefecture. Along the road from Hanamaki Airport to a hotel in Morioka, we passed by some cities, but all of them were fully functioning. This confused me, because it was so different from what I was used to seeing on the news. Heading to Kisennuma by car, we did not encounter any problems with the road, and the gasoline shortage had been restored. Approaching the stricken areas, we started noticing cars of non-governmental rescue parties and Self-Defense forces. Just as we entered the area, we immediately saw the destructed town of Kisennuma. Piles of rubble blocked our passage, and there were some areas with heavy traffic. However, the strong spirits of victims faced toward reconstruction of the town was extremely encouraging. Reduced to rubble, alongside the town roads were dispersed photo albums, Buddist mortuary tablets and letters that managed to survive the disaster. Later, we went down south along the coast of Kisennuma to Ishinomaki. There were some detours and temporarily constructed bridges that stood in our way, but the closed off roads were close to reconstruction. Next to the guardrail were indeed many photo albums and other items that did not have an owner piled up, along with paperwork flying in the wind.

In Sendai, we visited a digital rescue office that came to Sendai just one day after the earthquake disaster. In the early stages, there is an 80% rescue rate for the hard disks that are covered in dirt and seawater, but after three weeks, the rate drops to 20%. The rescue operations are working around the clock, but there are not many digital rescue offices. Of course, the first priority is rescuing survivors, but many people simply assume that once a hard disk has been covered in seawater, it cannot be used again. Depending on the area, there are still methods to save them.

The following day, we went to Yamada-machi to visit the Prefectural Yamada Hospital to see conditions of medical records and books. The assistant director of the hospital being our guide, showed us around the city public office, the town, and Ootsuchi city.

Mr. Hiraizumi, assistant director of Yamada Hospital:

“With tsunamis, there are very few injured victims. Only those who are strong enough to run away are saved, and those who are not are washed away. We are in a very tragic state right now, but I would like to think about what we can do for the survivors. I would like for as many people to come see the present situation we are in. Yamada-machi has many visitors and is lively, but the neighboring town Ootsuchi city, because of its utter destruction, is isolated which saddens me.”

There may be differences depending on the areas, and there may be contradicting opinions regarding this, but the more the people gather, the more the victims’ hopes grow at the same time.

The community center adjacent to the Yamada city public office is now used as a place to gather drifted personal items. All items were found through the rubble by the Self-Defense forces and tagged with the names of discovered locations. This system was naturally established, and it looked to be functioning very well. Materials in strong-built buildings can mostly be found inside, but all that has been washed away is considered as drifted debris. It is a possibility that official and historical documents are mixed up with personal documents. These items gathered out of goodwill may even be taken away by heartless people and ultimately, be thrown away. The retrieved items; official or personal; are all that is left of the victims’ belongings, and will be the foundation of the reconstruction and rebirth of the area.

In order to organize and send these drifted items back to the original owners, the current volunteer work will not be enough. Hopefully, a volunteer group will form where conservators, historians, librarians, town officials, and many other specialists from various fields can work together.

By Hiroshi Hata
Translated by Yuki

Academic Society HomeVillage
http://wwwsoc.nii.ac.jp/jla/earthquake/report.html

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