“Miyagi Network News” vol.100

~The East Japan Earthquake, the report from the devastated area (1)~

This is Daisuke Sato from the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials. This Net News has reached vol.100 at last. As our news number passed around vol.90 (it was before the quake), the secretariat staff talked over what contents would be suitable in vol.100 as a commemorative one. Now vol.100 has indeed come, and sadly it become the report which describes the rescue of historical materials damaged by the historic great earthquake that occurred on March 11th. We were offered a car by one of our supporters, so on April 4th for the first time 4 members of the secretariat office visited the centre of Ishinomaki City, Ogatsu Town, and Kitakami Town for a site inspection.

—The whitewashed warehouse which stood against the great Tsunami, in the centre of Ishinomaki City

On April 4th, we inspected Ishinomaki City, which was one of the areas struck by the unprecedented Tsunami. Heading to the east via the Sanriku Motorway, and passing through the Yamato parking area, we could find the flooded paddy fields and a lot of debris and cars which were washed up by the Tsunami. When we went down from the motorway at the Ishinomaki-Kahoku interchange, we saw the road was covered by sand which had been deposited there by the Tsunami. As we went close to the centre of the city, there were innumerable scrapped living utensils piled up high on the both sides of the road. In the centre of the city, because the houses and cars were destroyed, the paved asphalt had separated from the road, and the telegraph poles and the signal poles were flattened and the road was so narrow that it was very difficult for cars coming from the opposite direction to get by. However, the structure’s figures still remain there. The area from Hiyoriyama to the coastline, which was a symbol of Ishinomaki City, literally became a heap of rubble.

In Ishinomaki City, we visited the ‘H’ house because the local history club had requested us to rescue their historical materials which concerned the ‘H’ family’s ancestors. Although the main houses were crushed by the Tsunami, the two-storied whitewashed warehouse which had been constructed to be earthquake-resistant a few years ago stood against the debris of destroyed houses, and was miraculously saved from collapsing. The ground floor was flooded, whereas the first floor is safe, and the archives which were stored there are also safe without a scratch. We decided to rescue them and to temporarily keep them in the Tohoku Historical Museum.

—The disappeared towns and vanishing materials, in Ogatsu Town and Kitakami Town

In the afternoon, we headed for the north and visited Ogatsu Town and Kitakami Town. In both towns, we had planned to confirm the present condition of some archives which were possessed by old families. Those archives had been preserved by the project for compiling the town’s history when Kitakami Town was not yet affiliated with another town. 

On the way to Ogatsu Town, firstly we passed Kahaku Town in Ishinomaki City, and went ahead to the New Kitakami Bridge through the road which was constructed on the banks of Kitakami River (alternative name is Oppa River). As we went along the banks for a minute, we saw the reed fields and ships which were flattened by the Tsunami. There were also big, scattered pine trees, but where had they been washed from? Certainly, they were from the barrier of trees on the coastline. After that, the landscape suddenly changed as we got closer to the New Kitakami Bridge. The Tsunami destroyed the south sea bank completely, and almost all of the houses and structures which had stood within the banks had collapsed. The edge of the temporary road which was newly constructed over the water after the quake was flooding, because our visiting time was near high tide. Furthermore, quarter of the New Kitakami Bridge was washed away, and wreckage had fallen from hundreds of metres above.

The centre of Ogatsu Town was damaged catastrophically. Although the school, community centre and a few other structures were exceptions, nothing remained of the town after the Tsunami. We had never imagined such a scene of witnessing a sight-seeing bus on the roof of a three-storey building. The town was deserted, although we frequently saw emergency vehicles. The ‘N’ house is notable in this area since the end of Sengoku period (*1), and they possessed old archives concerned with their ancestors. The project for compiling Kitakami town’s history had started from 2000, and it continued for 5 years. At that time we took photographs of approximately 12,000 archives one by one and tidied up.

As we headed to the beachside road wrecked by the Tsunami, we at last arrived at the ‘N’ house, and then we discovered that nothing remained of the main house and whitewashed warehouses which were established in the Edo period(*2) but the foundation stones. Before visiting this house, we had already grasped the situation from the aerial photographs or other sources of information. However, simultaneously we had hoped for the small possibility that the house might have been spared with reference to the situation of ‘H’ house. Nevertheless, we were overcome with the merciless reality. Yet, we tried to keep looking for the precious archives in the debris even if we could somehow obtain just one item.

Due to the collapse of the New Kitakami Bridge, when we went to Kitakami Town where is on the opposite bank from Ogatsu Town, we had to go back to the headwaters once and then crossed the river. The east side area of the river in Kitakami Town was also damaged catastrophically. The ‘K’ family archives, which we had researched and preserved two years ago through the introduction by the branch office of Kitakami town, were washed away by the Tsunami. Due to the time limit, we couldn’t confirm the safety of other archives which were photographed and tidied up by the project team, those archives must certainly have suffered seriously. The database had been saved in the computer in the branch office and we heard that the very same computer was also washed away together with the office by the Tsunami which was over 10m.

The vanished warehouse

The warehouse before the quake

I apologise for writing about my private concerns, however the project for compiling regional history in which I first participated in Miyagi Prefecture was that of the Kitakami Town project. In this project, we had visited the old families which we visited this time in Ogatsu Town and Kitakami Town, then carried out preservation activities on historical materials by utilising digital technology and cooperating with the owners and local people. Our project advanced and we informed our research results to the local people. The methods of our activities were one of my origins of the ‘Miyagi Method’ used by the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials which was set up in 2003. Now, almost all of those archives have vanished. It feels as if I lost part of my life. Moreover, many historical materials which also had been the origin of the Miyagi Network have been lost forever by the disaster.

—We are alive, and data remains

Fortunately, in the places we visited, the archives owners and the people concerned are all safe. All of the owners are now taking shelter even though one month has already passed since the quake. There is no doubt that they are in a difficult situation, however, they willingly welcomed our visit, so we were delighted to meet them again. Also, the owners who are in Ogatsu Town and Kitakami Town gave us appreciative words for us and our activities. They said to us, “Our archives have gone, but we’re glad you took good photos before we lost them.” and ”When we recover, we’d like you to share the data which you have, please.”

During these last 8 years, we tackled with all our strength to preserve our archives, cooperating with administrative institutions and local people. However, we could not cover whole communities which were affected by the quake and the Tsunami before the disaster occurred. Whereas, in this case, the data which is stored in Sendai was saved from the disaster. That data will be returned back to the original owners and communities in due course. At present, we have recognised the problem why we had to carry out our preservation activities before the quake, and what kind of meaning our activity has as a result of this sorrowful experience. After the quake, at this moment, our historical materials are being lost every second. We have to preserve those materials even if only a piece remains and we will try to record them. We have decided that we will make an effort to get over this experience, and to make our activities advance steadily.

We sincerely hope for your continuous support and cooperation.

NB: The photos are all from the homepage of  the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials.

*1 Sengoku Period (戦国時代): A division of Japanese history which spanned from around the latter half of the 15th century to approximately the former half of the 17th century.

*2 Edo Period (江戸時代): or Tokugawa period. A division of Japanese history which spanned from AD1603 to 1868.

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About Nerwork for Historical Materials
A volunteer group for preserving Cultural Heritage suffered from natural disasters

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