Miyagi Network News vol.150

 ~The participation in the voluntary operation for preserving historical materials~

Kuniko Sasaki

I had knowledge that there was some kind of voluntary work which rescued and repaired the historical materials damaged by the Tsunami through the newspaper or other media; however I didn’t know how I could participate in it. One day in a certain meeting I met Professor Hirakawa who was the chief director of the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials, and he told me about their activity. Immediately I asked him to join it.

The East Japan Earthquake on 11th March extremely shocked me. The inside of my house was messed up by the quake. Because the electricity was cut off, I couldn’t grasp what happened in other areas. After the light came on again, I first knew the extent of damage in the coastline area. As the situation was gradually revealed day by day, I understood that the damage in my house couldn’t even be considered as damage. I sincerely thought that I wanted to do anything I could, however time had just passed by as I helped and visited my friends and acquaintances.

The date I participated in the activity was from 24th August to 9th September except for Wednesdays. Although I tried to continue, I got a strained back and I had to give up. Carrying out the cleaning operation, even though I wore the mask, particular smells which were different from the seawater or sludge arose. The student who came from Rikuzentakada said that it was the Tsunami’s smell, and it convinced me.

The documents were in various conditions, some were covered with mud or mould, some documents were torn or adhered to each other, and the letters in some documents had disappeared. Some of the clasps for the documents were rusted or covered in mould. We carefully treated those which were caked with mud by the brush or pallet, and sprayed ethanol for sterilization, dried them and then it was finished. Usually the book covers were made from thick paper, however those covers were in tatters from the seawater and some were torn.

The papers on which mould had formed like paste were too hard to be separated from each other. As I sprayed the ethanol onto the papers and tried not to tear them, I paid attention to peel them off one by one, by using tweezers and pallets. In some books, the letters’ ink ran and had affected the next paper. As I silently carried out the operation with the smell of the mud, mould and ethanol, I imagined the human story behind each document. For example, the school documents had a lot of notes in the margins, which noted the numbers of corrected letters very carefully. People who had wrote the documents had cherished each character; however, many important texts were lost, and it made me sad.

On the other hand, I admired that Japanese paper and ink were strong even if they were waterlogged. The documents which were written by Indian ink on Japanese papers were also strong too.

Among the damaged documents, when I separated the adhered pages, there were some papers which were easily peeled off, making a subtle sound and leaving a very little granulated hole. It was the grain of salt. I didn’t know it was because the documents were covered with seawater or because of the paper quality, the paper which meaningfully had many little holes like dots seemed somehow mystic and beautiful.

At the end of the second week, the amount of cardboard boxes which were piled up in the corridor had dramatically decreased. It proved that even the largest task would have an end if we did it together. Although it is a matter of course, I felt happy.

Anyway, the staff in the university seemed too busy, I guess. Managing the damaged materials, grasping the manpower, and contacting the institution concerned. I worried about when they worked on their own research. Getting to know the energetic people who worked for the voluntary operation was also a precious experience for me. I would like to join the rescue operation using the best of my poor ability.

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



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

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