“Miyagi Netwark News” vol.105

~The East Japan Earthquake, the preservation activity of historical materials in Iwanuma City~

This is Yuichi Ebina as the secretariat officer of the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials.

On April 9th, the Mg.7.1 aftershock whose seismic centre was offshore of Miyagi Prefecture occurred. Thus, such a recurrent and extensive aftershocks are still hitting many places in East Japan. The structures which had narrowly escaped the earthquake on 11th March were seriously damaged again and have since fallen down, so we are receiving further information which tells us of their worsening conditions.

In the inspection of the affected area on 14th April, we carried out the second door-to-door survey of the old houses which had confirmed serious damage when we inspected Iwanuma City on 5th April. The accompanying members were Hiroshi Hashimoto, Aya Nakamura, and Toshihiro Sato who were architects and joined us since 12th April as volunteers. Moreover, members who belong to the compiling room for Iwanuma City History also participated with us and investigated the historical structures together.

Firstly, we visited an old family who had officially worked for the management of forwarding argents and had a job as so-called ‘Kaisendonya’, it means that the wholesale store dealt with the products which were transferred through the sea and Abukuma River, in the Edo period. When the quake occurred, the main house, whitewashed warehouse and the garden were seriously damaged. Especially in the two-storey warehouse, we found damage such as an extensive crack which traversed the side wall, an entirely collapsed white-plastered wall, and mud-walls exfoliated from their wall panels. Hereafter, we anticipate the further risk that the damage could spread to the inside of the warehouse by the wind, rain, and the humid weather. The owner of the house is also worried about the affect of the aftershocks and sought how to best repair them.

According to the inspection of the construction of the inside warehouse by Mr.Hashimoto, although the mud-walls had intensively collapsed, the interior had been firmly constructed, therefore the risk of complete collapse was low, and it would be possible to repair. As for the mud-walls exfoliated from their wall panels, there was the risk that they might collapse under their own weight due to the aftershocks, because these walls had been covered with Namako wall(*1) and they were very thick. For this reason, under Mr.Hashimoto’s suggestion, we constructed the foundation with blocks and stones under the exfoliated walls as an emergency support. In addition, according to Ms. Nakamura, as for the Buddhist tower seriously affected by the quake, it could be repaired by the colourless and powerful adhesive which has been developeded recently.

The next place we visited was the old family in the east area of Iwanuma City, who had been major landowners in modern times. The master of the house said that the Tsunami had reached right in front of their main house. In terms of this residence, there are several whitewashed warehouses which were built between the Meiji period and the pre-war days. Especially, the warehouse called ‘Isho-gura’ (it means the warehouse for clothes), and the north and east side walls had entirely fallen down. This warehouse was built in the Meiji period, and the outside walls of the ground floor were covered with bricks, so the appearance was very impressive and distinctive. When we looked around the inside of the warehouse, the building materials were magnificent, and the interior decorations such as transom windows were also splendid even though it was just a warehouse. So we realised their significant history as a wealthy and important family in this area. In the Tokonoma(*2) of the warehouse, the wallpaper was peeling off due to the quake, and we found that the undercoated documents which belong to the Meiji Period were under the wall paper. As for these modern documents, there was a risk that the documents would be exposed to rain and wind, if the mud-walls fell. Therefore, we peeled them away from the wall paper and preserved them.

According to Mr.Hashimoto who investigated the warehouse, although the mud-walls were seriously damaged, the original infrastructure was very tight and strong, so there was no concern about the inner structure. In addition, he said that this whitewashed warehouse was very remarkable and it was very difficult to encounter such a structure present Japan, therefore, it deserves to be designated as a prefectural cultural property. As for the northern part of the outside wall, the wall was covered with a vinyl sheet as urgent aid was carried out by Mr.Sato, in order to avoid the submergence of the building materials and inside of the warehouse.

In these inspection, Mr.Hashimoto, Ms.Nakamura and Mr.Sato gave us their support as architects, not only the specific investigation, but also the urgent repair of the structures. We can say that those activities have a very important meaning for the damaged structures in such a devastated area while the aftershocks still continue. Furthermore, they also gave us advise stating that those structures were  possible to repair because the old structure’s substructure had been built very soundly, although we might initially be shocked to see the serious damage such as fallen mud-walls. This advice was very encouraging as we were worried the damaged structures would be scrapped. Up to now, our main rescuing activities were for the old archives, however we could recognise the importance of the preservation of those old structures. We could learn a lot of thing from them. We appreciate again that they came from far away and to participate in our activity as volunteers.

At the same time, we keenly realise that the owners feel the heavy burden about repairing and maintaining those historical structures damaged by the quake. The circumstances are very different between the present and the time when these whitewashed warehouses were first built. It is also difficult to get the building materials. In addition, there are very few traditional craftsmen were also very few as well as the cost being too high to be borne by the private owners.

The East Japan Earthquake destroyed not only the structures on the coastline area, but also in the area inland. In the disaster, the old structures of private owners are now facing the danger of whether they will be able to remain standing or not, because they could not be managed personally. To maintain this number of traditional structures is a major issue for each of us who share the same history, and we have to consider it together with the whole community and nation.


*1 Namako wall(なまこ壁): a Japanese traditional method for the construction of walls. The roof tiles are attached to the wall and entrenched with plaster.

*2 Tokonoma(床の間): a kind of interior decoration in the traditional Japanese Tatami room.


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

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