Miyagi Network News vol.142

 —The Diary of Participation in the Rescue Activity

Motoo Endo, the Historiographical Institute, the University of Tokyo

From 13th to 14th of July, immediately after the end of the rainy season, I participated in the rescue operation in Wataricho and Wakuyacho.

On 13thJuly, the rescue activity for E family’s historical materials was carried out in Arahama, Wataricho. This family’s house was on the side of a bank near the estuary of Abukuma River. The cement-made walls 1 metre thick, which had been built on the top of bank, were washed over 200m away, and sand bags have been laid there. It was the proof that the tsunami surmounted the bank with awful power.

The rescue operation in whitewashed warehouse

Most of the E family’s house on the seaside stood empty. Near there, I heard the noise of the operation vehicles removing structures and the dump lorries transferring debris. Simultaneously, I could see that there was a number of excavators on the heap of debris which were piling up more debris faraway. On the side of the hill of debris, there was a five-storey building which survived the Tsunami, and the height of debris reached the third floor. It was a trace of human life, at the same time, however, it seemed to show the extremity of the disorder.

Anyway, E family are old merchants. According to the master of the house, they had settled down in Arahama at the end of the Edo Period(*1), and had managed businesses such as the pawnshop, after that they become great landowners who owned extensive land in the coastline area of Wataricho and its neighbour, Iwanuma City. During the Edo and Meiji(*2) Periods, it is said that Wataricho flourished as an important point for the water transportation between Abukuma River and Pacific Ocean, so I consider that the community’s wealth kept the E family’s prosperity.

The historical materials which they possess, that is to say, the materials which we rescued in this operation, are concerned with their family businesses as local capitalists in modern times. Moreover, there were a huge number of artworks and handiworks such as paintings, calligraphies, utensils, furniture, and the manuscripts which were written by the great writers in modern times, and books which the successive masters of the house had collected. These are the precious historical materials which indicated the cultural role of the local notables.

Historical documents were found from the drawers

Because the number of rescue targets reached an enormous amount, this operation was carried out together with the Wataricho Board of Education, the Rescue Committee for damaged cultural propertied organised by the Government Agency for Cultural Affair, and the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials as a cooperative activity. Its base was placed in Wataricho Kyodo Museum ‘Yurikan’. The Rescue Committee was composed of over 20 members from Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties and other national-wide museums. Furthermore, Nara National Research Institute dispatched special lorries which would transfer the E family’s materials. At this time, the Miyagi Network participated in supporting this activity.

Our activity was divided into 2 groups, one of them was carried out the operation for transportation in the field, and another engaged in executing the urgent measures for each material in the ‘Yurikan’. I belonged to the group which worked in the field. Observing the extent of the damage, the ground floors of the main house, whitewashed-warehouse-like shop (見世蔵) and whitewashed warehouse were entirely flooded. The E family’s materials were taken out from the whitewashed warehouse whose outside white-plastered walls had sadly fallen down, and we placed the documents, framed pictures, Fusuma(*3) and ornaments on the vinyl sheet under the fierce sunshine. We worried whether heat stroke would affect the workers because of the temperature which was over 30 degrees, however, it could be said that it was better than suspension due to the rain.

There were 2 points worthy of special mention.

Removing the framed calligraphic works

The first one is the maps and deeds preserved in the main house, and both of which belong to the Meiji Period. They were discovered by the inspection based on the master of the house. The place which he pointed out was the old storage room containing the safe in a corner of the main house where the plastic bottles, magazines and handcrafts goods were flooded by dirt seawater were left in layers. After scraping out the debris, the valuable materials were found at the bottom of slime. To tell the truth, on the way to the dig, the master of the house and members had worried whether his memory had been wrong or not, however, we could breathe with a sigh of relief about the result. Simultaneously, we realised that the certainty of his memory, in other words, his passion for his family’s historical materials was indeed present to pass down them to the future.

Another point was the group of historical documents which were found from the drawers in the whitewashed warehouse. This was discovered when we carried out the final confirmation before leaving from the E family. In the drawer, the seawater which the Tsunami flooded in this area on the day of the East Japan Earthquake still remained, and there were some documents and materials which seemed to be the photos soaked in the black slimy water.

Especially the photo-like materials’ conditions were horrble. They were treated in the ‘Yurikan’ by the repairing specialist from the Rescue Committee for damaged cultural properties. As a result, they were revealed to be picture postcard in the early Showa Period(*4). With regard to the other materials, they were judged to be barely unsuitable for repair by the freeze dry machine. Therefore, I could realise the meaning of our activities again.

In this operation, a large numbers of workers and means of transport were poured into the activity in a short period by the Rescue Committee. Observing the whole project for the rescue operation, there were some problems which were caused by the various groups engaging with, however, I think it was meaningful from the view of emergency. Of course, there are still difficulties such as repairing, managing and utilizing in forthcoming activities.

After finishing our operation in the evening, the group for transportation greeted the owners and left E family’s home. The master of the house also possessed the library, however, he regrettably said that there was no option but to scrap all of the books. I really shared his feeling that he would have to attend the removal operation of his house in near future.

On 14th July, we headed to the N family’s house in Wakuyacho. This family had successively produced the teachers of ‘Gesshokan’ which was Wakuya-Date Domain’s country school. This operation was requested by the master of the house, and on the next day, this house was scheduled to be demolished.

Wakuyacho is located in inland, so the extent of damage by the quake was less than in the coastline area. However, as far as observing the condition on the way from Furukawa to Wakuya, I saw that the telegraph poles were at an angle, the houses were partially damaged, and roads had numerous bumps. N family had a 120-year-old house, and its ceilings had fallen down and some pillars were warped. The houses around that of the N family were not damaged so much, so the scenery that only this house was gravely affected impressed me as if I saw another place.

The same as the E family in Wataricho did, the N family also owned a lot of art and literary materials. From the general historical view, at any rate those materials were treated as the secondary materials, however, it was good opportunity for me to reconsider what position we should give those materials in history. Probably those issues might be belong to the common debate among the researchers who study early modern times. For me, as a researcher who majored the medieval history, it was a meaningful experience.

Most of the historical materials which were rescued were transferred to the Miyagi Museum for Art, and some of them were temporary preserved in the Wakuyacho Museum.

For this operation, participants were from not only Miyagi Prefecture, but also Tokyo and Kansai area. Especially, the members from Kansai area had experiences of rescue operations for the Hanshin Great Earthquake or flood damage in Hyogo Prefecture. Over these 2 days, I keenly realised that the experienced stimulated his/her into engaging the rescue operations, and strongly felt the genuine ‘relationship’ between humans.

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

 *1 Edo Period: A division of Japanese history which spanned from 1603 to 1868.

*2 Meiji Period: A division of Japanese history which spanned from 1868 to 1912.

*3 Fusuma: 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 part.

*4 Showa Period: A division of Japanese history which spanned from 1926 to 1989.

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

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