How should we regard the East Japan Earthquake?

~From the News Letter on May 27th of the Network for Historical Materials~

Professor Hiroshi Okumura, the representative of the Network for Historical Materials

On March 11th, When the East Japan Earthquake occurred, I was dealing with preserving the historical documents which were about Shoya (庄屋, the chief villager in the Edo Period) and were newly discovered in Sasayama City, Hyogo Prefecture. At that time I didn’t feel the quake and I was informed about the tremendous disaster by the owner of these documents, who had seen a TV broadcast in the Tohoku area. As I listened to the radio stating that the Tsunami warning had been announced, I returned to the university in some confusion and I instructed people concerned to prepare for an emergency. Nearly 3 months has passed since that day.

When I heard that the great earthquake occurred, honestly speaking I myself was consumed with apology and chagrin. Just before the quake, in a study meeting, I questioned why the researchers in Kobe always dwelled on the the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. However, I didn’t aggressively dispute them, moreover, I flinched a bit at their opinion due to some hesitation. That’s why I felt apologetic.

Up to now, great earthquakes have attacked this country and they will do so again. The extensive natural disasters are continuing to impact on the people and culture, who live in the Japanese archipelago from the past to the present. We, historical researchers who carry the historical culture on our back have to fulfil the independent role in such a Japanese society. I myself have repeatedly appealed this cause to society, however, I still wonder whether I could adequately grasp the true meaning and the depth, and whether I could have enough power to persuade the other researchers and the people.

To be honest, we had planned to integrate the suggestions about the predicted great earthquake, cooperating with historical researchers such as the members of the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials and other Networks in each prefecture by May, and to present the concrete proposals and offer our opinions to the society. Just before the quake, we had also held the study meeting about it. The fact that the earthquake had come before we could have done anything about it truly mortified us.

After the quake, we had to watch the images of the Tsunami and the heaps of the debris in the destroyed towns which we saw in parallel to the scenes of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Although I didn’t want to see it, I couldn’t stop watching it. Such distressing days continued every day. As for the preparation for the urgent situation, we could arrange it in our own way, however we still had difficulties in accepting the extent of the disaster and to consider how to clear the way for our activity’s development.

The people who let me assume responsibility were junior members who patiently reacted to the advancing rescue activities as they contacted the Network in the devastated area, the members of the Miyagi and Fukushima Networks who immediately started to carry out the preservation operations although they were in a difficult situation, the members of Yamagata Network who devotedly supported the activities of each Network in the disaster-stricken area, and the members inIbaraki and Chiba, who tried to start the preservation activities. Simultaneously, now we, the Network for Historical Materials received a huge contributions, amounting to approximately 6,000,000 yen so far, and people’s sympathy for the devastated area has encouraged me immensely. In April, the conference which discussed how we should support the study societies and associations for history in the affected area was held on unprecedented scale in the secretariat office of the Historical Science Society in Japan in Tokyo. After that, during the lunch break meeting of the Society’s Congress, the reports about the activities for preserving historical materials were presented one after another, and I could realise that a circle of support for the disaster-stricken area was widening, and it inspired me to a greater effort.

Through that experience I promoted the lunch break meeting, I could feel that the preservation of the historical materials had taken root in Japanese society as the emergency activity when the natural disasters occur throughout the 16 years since the Great Hanshin Earthquake. At the same time, I could consider that we should be proud of our role, in which the Network for Historical Materials has fulfilled establishing such rescue systems, although we are still a flawed institution.

From the experience of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, the preservation activities of the materials damaged by the Tsunami will be important to be undertaken by August. The rescue operation accompanying the demolition of houses or whitewashed warehouses affected by the quake will start soon. It is anticipated that the removal operation will begin in the area where the damage is not so serious, and after that, it will be switched to the places which were destroyed or those houses damaged by the aftershocks. Therefore, the area where was slightly damaged will require urgent measures, moreover, the northern Kanto area will need emergency activities although these areas did not broadcast about the extent of the damage from the quake and the Tsunami.

For reconstructing society after the earthquake, it will require a long time. Observing this situation in which extensive and continuous aftershocks occur and considering the accident at the nuclear plant, the long-term activity will be necessary for a period longer than that of the recovery from the Hanshin Earthquake, and I expect that we have to think about a 20-year period of activity at least. Furthermore, in terms of the earthquake disaster, the aspects about the extent of damage are different between the ruinous earthquake areas and other such areas. Therefore, the reconstruction will gradually advance, and the gaps in the retrieval speed will expand in the near future. I suppose that we need to support the activity for the historical culture accompanying the various situations of each devastated area.

The more important thing is that our support is not a one-way activity from the area which were not damaged by the disaster and those affected. We, the Network for Historical Materials are learning a lot of things through the activities with the Miyagi Network, and we have obtained that the continuous support means to be embodied the issue how to strongly establish the historical culture against the natural disasters in Japanese society.

We appreciate the members and our supporters who participate in our upcoming activities for devastated area and to give us financially support.

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

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