“Miyagi Net work News” vol.101 [First Part]

~The East Japan Earthquake, the report from the devastated area (2) ~

This is Daisuke Sato from the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials. We received a lot of mails which encouraged us, and are much obliged to all of you. On April 7th, a huge aftershock occurred. We are concerned about further damage of the cultural properties which had been damaged by the quake on March 11th.

Today’s report is a sequel to the earlier report on our activities in the disaster area. On April 5th, we inspected Murata Town, Iwanuma City, and Watari Town which are located in the southern area of Miyagi Prefecture.

 —Preserving historical documents discovered at the Buddhist altar, in Murata Town(1)

Murata Town was a prosperous town since the latter half of the Edo period(*1), well known as a production of safflower which was the ingredient of traditional rouge. In the centre of the town, many whitewashed structures still remain, and it reflects the prosperous old days of Murata merchants. The beautiful rows of houses and streets are called “Little Kyoto”, so has become a sight-seeing spot, and a lot of people from various places visit here every year.

Although the media doesn’t report so much about the situation of the inlands such as Murata Town, this town was one area concerned about the damage by the quake. Therefore, on the morning of the day, we went there to inspect it.

The xxx family has thousands of archives which indicates their activities as an outstanding safflower merchant in the town and the family of high repute after the Meiji period(*2). Although the master of the house is now living out of the prefecture, the family’s properties were donated to the town because of the master’s wish that their archives and residence be used for the community’s development. The residence became the sight-seeing spot, simultaneously the archives were photographed and tidied up by the volunteer researchers in the Tohoku area, which was organised as the Ouu(*3) Study Group for researching historical documents in 1999. I am a member of this group and those activities continued from 2003 to 2009.

After this disaster, we were concerned about the residence, the inside of the structure, and the condition of the historical documents which had already been tidied and preserved in the whitewashed warehouse. Soon after the quake, we had requested the administrative officers who were responsible for cultural affairs to confirm the extent of the damage, and they gave us detailed information in their spare time outside of responding to the disaster about the houses and streets including the xxx house. For this reason we could learn that the structure of the residence was saved from collapsing and all the historical documents were safe just after the quake. When we contacted the master of the family, he said that he had found the historical documents in the Buddhist altar, although he had hesitated to bring out those documents. While he decided to do it on the next opportunity, which turned out to be the very same moment the quake occurred. He wanted to rush to his former house, however he couldn’t do that due to the traffic at that time. Because they are still worried about the risk of aftershocks, we offered him to let us preserve documents to which he agreed. Therefore, we planned to cope with it during our inspection.

The objects for inspection were found according to the master’s instruction. For confirmation, we did further inspection of the Buddhist alter, and then we found some drawers and a number of Edo period archives inside them. Those documents were carried out to our secretariat office in Sendai with the master’s approval.

According to the architect working for us, in the main house, one pillar which is made from a zelkova tree was damaged, and it will require urgent repair so as to avoid collapsing by the aftershocks. As for the documents which had been previously preserved, we left them where they used to be, because the warehouse’s roof was completely secure and we couldn’t find out any trace of leakage, in addition, we were understaffed. However, we will preserve there again due to the aftershock which occurred on April 7th.

For me, as a person who gained experience from the research in Ogatsu Town, Ishinomaki City (please see ‘vol.100’), the most meaningful thing is not the fact that the new historical documents were discovered rather that I could rescue the documents myself, from such an unprecedented disaster. Through this inspection and preservative activities in cooperation with a private owner and administrative officers, we could boost motivation for future activities.

—The house construction has risen to the surface, in Murata Town(2)

Almost all whitewashed houses such as xxx house in the centre of the town seemed to be damaged seriously, for example, the cracked or fallen walls, fallen roof tiles, and the structures twisted by the quake. As I stated above, the xxx house also needs urgent repair. The administrative institution said that they had also inspected the situation and were considering how to support the private owners.

On the other hand, according to the architect who is supporting us, many whitewashed structures were saved from the deadly occurence because they have extremely strong substructures and the pillars which are made from solid zelkova trees which may well be impossible to get nowadays, although a more detailed inspection is needed. As for the fallen mud-walls, it seems that the reason that some parts were damaged from the quake was that it was already decrepit before. In the Miyagi Network News vol.98, we already introduced the case of Oushu and Hama Highway which lets us know the wisdom of our predecessor’s as well as their experience. With regard to the house constructions, it also makes us reflect on the fact that the methods of the Murata merchants and the craftsmen who built them and how to tackle their houses.

Meanwhile, it is certain that the damage is clearly outstanding. In terms of the characters of the aforementioned damage, many of us consider the affected structures hard to repair as we simply are unaware of how they were originally built. Although they were actually saved from the deadly events due to their strong foundation and construct there remains the risk that those structures already designated as “Dangerous” by a recent inspection will be scrapped. This problem had already been pointed out in Miyagi Net News vol.99, although we still cannot reach the conclusion on how to concern and engage them, as an organization for preserving historical materials. However, for the time being, we will consider the methods of temporary repair after consulting with various specialists. (to be continued)


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

*1 Edo period(江戸時代): or Tokugawa period. A division of Japanese history which spanned from 1603 to 1868.

*2 Meiji period(明治時代): A division of Japanese history which spanned from 1868 to 1912.

*3 Ouu(奥羽): the old place-name which included the present whole Tohoku area.


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

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