The Tea Chest That was Washed Ashore

Saving the Documents of the Kimura Family of Onagawa Town, Miyagi Prefecture

              The collection of documents held by the Kimura Family of Onagawa Town, had been designated a Municipal Cultural Property by the town council. The Kimura Family lived in a hamlet at the end of Yoko'ura inlet, which was ravaged by the tsunami of March 2011. The tea chest containing the collection of documents was washed away, along with everything else that the family owned.
              On 29th April 2011, one of the locals who was cleaning up the debris where that person's house used to stand on the shore of an inlet on the opposite side of Onagawa Bay, noticed a tea chest which had been washed up amongst the other debris. When the person opened up the tea chest and found it full of carefully filed old documents, the person thought that the contents must be very valuable. The person flagged down a passing delivery truck, and asked the driver to deliver the tea chest and its contents to the Onagawa Board of Education.
              The Onagawa Town office used to be located in the centre of the town, and the building had been rendered useable by the tsunami. In April of 2011, the staff of the Board of Education were still all on duty in the public relief centres run by the town, and snatched precious time from these duties to dry out in the shade the Kimura Family documents.
              Miyagi Shiryō Net received a call from Onagawa to carry out a salvage operation for these documents, and we were able to arrive in the town and take charge of the documents on 12th May 2011. On the following day, we dispatched the documents to the Nara City Markets Freezer Division. The freezing facilities of the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties were already full, and the Institute had asked the city markets to provide space in their freezer facilities for documents which they could not keep in the limited space at the Institute. The Institute used a vacuum-freeze to dry out the documents, which were delivered back to Sendai on 29th August. After their emergency treatment in Nara, we can now turn over and open the documents, and start to decipher and read them.
              The Kimura Family Documents were saved by the people of Onagawa, who themselves had lost their homes and much more. The tea chest is a symbol of the bonds between the people of Onagawa as they try to salvage their historical and cultural heritage, and of the cooperation between specialists and non-specialists throughout Japan to save this heritage for the people of Onagawa.

 The tea chest containing the Kimura Family Documents. Photographed at the Onagawa Town Temporary Office (17th May 2011)

 Even a full month after the tsunami, the documents were still soaking wet (Sendai, 17th May 2011)

 The documents were taken to the freezer storage facilities of the Nara Municipal Markets for storage in ice (August 2011, Yamato-Kōriyama City, Nara Prefecture)

The freeze dryer machine used to dry out the Kimura Family Documents in the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Some documents from the Kimura Family Documents after completion of the freeze-drying process (photographed at the Nara National Research Institute, August 2011).

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