Thursday, 13 March 2014

Part II Salvage Operations for Historical Materials after the Great East Japan Earthquake

Damage Assessment and Salvage Work within the Disaster Area

3.11. 2011: Disaster Hits for the Third Time

              At 2.40 p.m. on 11th March 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred offshore the Pacific seaboard of the Tōhoku Region (the northeastern part of the main island of Honshū). Soon after that, a gigantic tsunami hit the neighbouring coastline.
              The third major earthquake that we experienced, the Great East Japan Earthquake, was something that almost no one had predicted nor expected. It exceeded all prior estimates about the expected scale of the next Miyagi Offshore Earthquake, which occurs on an approximately 40 year cycle, and the tsunami that it caused wrought mass damage extending over 500 kilometres of coastline.

Documents Washed Away by the Tsunami
The Originals Have Gone, but the Digital Data Remains
              In the areas along the coast hit by the tsunami, countless historical materials were lost. The very first time we were able to enter the disaster area to visit a family in Ishinomaki City, the approximately 12,000 historical documents held there had all been washed away, along with everything else that the family owned.
              Despite this great loss to the historical heritage of the region, we had already photographed all these documents over a period of 10 years starting from 2000. It was a lesson learnt in the worst way possible, but this example demonstrates clearly the importance of conducting preservation activities for historical materials before disaster strikes.

Countless Historical Materials in Danger
Salvaging as Much as Fast as Possible
              From around the middle of April 2011, we started to receive urgent calls to come and salvage collections of historical materials, both from areas hit by the tsunami, and areas further inland. These calls not only came from people who held the materials, but also from people in local government and local citizens with whom we had established a working relationship in our years of activities throughout the region before the disaster.

              As of December 2013, we have conducted a total of 105 salvage operations in a total of 88 families and institutions throughout Miyagi and southern Iwate Prefectures (Note: the Wikipedia entries linked to here are highly unsatisfactory, but at least you can locate the prefectures on a map JFM). Notwithstanding the scope of this disaster, we have discovered many collections of historical materials which have miraculously survived, but which are in jeopardy, either due to immersion in seawater and silt from the tsunami, or by being housed in collapsed or condemned buildings damaged by the earthquake. It is a race against time to save as many of these materials as possible for posterity.

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