"Five Years On" No. 3 A Task with No End in Sight

"Five Years On" No. 3

Miyagi Rekishi Shiryou Network in 2016 

This is the third installment in a series of articles by Satō Daisuke on the activities of Miyagi Rekishi Shiryou Hozon Network, 5 years after the disaster of March 2011. 

3) A Task with No End in Sight: Repairing Documents Damaged by the Tsunami and Support for Jōsō City、Ibaraki Prefecture

Miyagi Shiryou Network began emergency treatment for historical documents suffering tsunami damage in March, 2011. We learnt the basic skills involved from the specialist volunteer members of the Tokyo Document Recovery Assistance Force (Japanese language), and solicited and trained volunteers from a wide variety of walks of life. For example, professors at universities both around Sendai and from outside brought whole class groups of their students, and other students came on an individual basis, but the core group of our volunteers came from women and retired people living within commuting distance of Sendai. 

Initially we were able to conduct our emergency treatment on a five-day basis, and were able to obtain financial support from public and private funds directed at supporting rebuilding efforts after the disaster. Today, we only conduct treatment for damaged documents once a week on Wednesday on a completely volunteer basis. Our volunteers consist of core members who have worked with us since 2011, and some new members who respond to our calls for volunteers in the Network's Newsletter. The number of volunteers who gather on any one day is usually about 7 to 8 people.

In addition, Professor Takehara Kazuo of the Tōhoku University of Design and Art and his seminar group of students commute once a month from Yamagata City to repair and catalogue the collection of documents belonging to the K Family of Ishinomaki. Despite this continued support, the speed with which we can repair  and treat documents has naturally fallen much below what we could do 4 to 5 years ago.

In addition, we have been asked to provide assistance to the Ibaraki Shiryou Network. The City of Jōsō in Ibaraki Prefecture on the northern Kantō Plain suffered heavy rain and heavy flooding on the 11th to 12th of Spetember 2015. Two collections of privately-held documents were entrusted for vacuum freeze drying treatment to the Department of Preservation of Historical Materials, International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDes), Tōhoku University, where the office of Miyagi Shiryou Network is located. Professor Takahashi Osamu of Ibaraki University and his seminar group of students visited IRIDes on the 14h and 15th of February, and Professor Soeda Hitoshi and his students came again on the 14th and 15th of March to work as volunteers on the task of cleaning and restoring these documents. 

Problems to be Solved

At present, our ability to continue our activities is totally dependent on non-remunerated volunteer work. The room where we do the drying-out treatment for the collections documents that we have been entrusted with by the Ibaraki Shiryou Network reeks of a stench so revolting it defies words to express it. Our regular volunteers, and the student volunteers from the Tōhoku University of Design and Art, and those from Ibaraki University have to work under terrible conditions. 

I can only express my most heartfelt appreciation for those volunteers who are working and supporting us. It is probably also very fortunate for our long-term prospects that we have volunteers who are free from the restraints imposed by the increasing current trend of requiring immediate short-term results for any project undertaken.
However, I personally believe that our volunteers should be properly recompensed for the amount of work that they do.

While I feel deeply indebted to and grateful for our volunteers and supporters, I wonder whether the nagging sense of anxiety that I feel towards our present situation is simply a way of passing responsibility for my own inability to find any kind of solution for our problems onto someone or something else.

Satō Daisuke
10th March, 2016
(All Japanese personal names are given in Japanese order, family name first)

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