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

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

 —The difficulties of maintaining the ancestral treasures, in Iwanuma City

On the afternoon of that day, we inspected Iwanuma City. In the city, the local committeeman for preserving cultural properties guided us to six old families which our secretariat office had confirmed the addresses of beforehand. Each family was willing to welcome us although our visit was very sudden, moreover, it was in such a situation of the disaster.

In each house we visited, the whitewashed warehouses and the main houses which were constructed by the traditional methods remained, whereas the fallen walls or other such damage was very alarming, the same situation as seen in Murata Town. Among them, there were some houses where a post-earthquake quick inspection of damaged buildings had already been conducted, and to which were attached red papers declaring them as “Dangerous”. However, the same as was seen in Murata Town, it seemed that the houses which were irreparably damaged were probably very few. One of the owners said that the whitewashed walls were broken and we could see that the pillars which had been inside the walls and could recognise that they were all safe, so we would repair them without them being scrapped.

Simultaneously, it is obviously difficult for each private owner to repair their traditional structures by themselves. The old houses in the area along the Abukuma River, the structures and warehouses which were built in the Edo Period still remain. According to the owners, those structure’s damage had been discovered before the quake. They had the intention of cherishing their ancestral houses, although it would be difficult to maintain those structures themselves due to the high costs.

At another house located in the area along the Sendai East Motorway, the main house and warehouse which used to be the cargo station for local products were saved from serious damage, although the Tsunami had reached its garden. However, the mud-walls of more than 100year-old whitewashed warehouse were entirely broken by the quake, so we could see that the pillars were exposed. According to the master of the house, they had no choice but to scrap it because it would be too expensive to repair. We requested him to let us preserve those historical materials and archives that had been stored there when the warehouse would be scrapped.

—The town in the estuary of Abkuma River struck by Tsunami, in the Arahama community of Watari Town

Watari Town is located on the opposite banks from Iwanuma City and the southern area of Abkuma River, is one of the most seriously damaged areas of the Tsunami. We visited the Arahama area located in the estuary of Abukuma River on inspection.

In this town, there is the ‘M’ house whose old archives concerning their ancestors we researched several years ago. This family had controlled transports by the river as the forwarding agent, therefore, some of their archives had already been deposited in the town museum, whereas the historical documents concerning their forwarding business from the second half of the Edo period to the beginning of the Meiji period were preserved in their house. Those documents had been discovered being used as the Fusuma(*1)’s undercoated papers when their former house was rebuilt, so the family had considered that it was too precious to throw away, and then they kept them at their house. This was my first experience to remove those undercoated documents and to tidy them up. In these documents, I could find out a lot of familiar place-names connected with my hometown, in northern Fukushima Prefecture. Therefore, this activity provided a good memory for me.

In the Arahama community, there were still many signs of the damage caused by the great Tsunami. The same situation as noted in Kitakami River, where we visited the day before, the 7 to 8 metre high banks of Abukuma River were buckled by the Tsunami. Although the main house of ‘M’ family almost remained as before, the traces of flooding were found out on the ground floor. Nobody was at home. Their old archives’ whereabouts were also uncertain.

The houses around there had an ‘X’ mark attached by white vinyl tape and it meant that the bodies had been recovered from there. According to the local people, many victims were elderly people who were too slow to evacuate. We heard that the master of the ‘M’ family safely evacuated from the Tsunami and he was spending time in a shelter. However, after moving to the next evacuation station, he passed away because of a sudden health problem.

We offered flowers to the deceased people on the edge of this community and left. During this inspection, although we got the fruit of rescuing historical materials, on the other hand we had to experience the sad loss of their owner.


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

*1 Fusuma(襖): sliding door made from paper and wood, used to partition off rooms in a Japanese house. Sometimes they have beautiful traditional pictures, or old historical documents on the underside to strengthen against being torn apart.


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

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