Digest (No.102-113)   101(complete transration)  HOME

No. 100 (7th April, 2011)

News from the Disaster Area (No. 1)
The Downtown Ishinomaki City, Ogatsu Town, Kitakami Town

  This is written by SATO Daisuke of the Executive Office of the Miyagi Shiryou Net. This mail marks the 100th Newsletter. After we sent out No. 901, we started discussing what we should do to commemorate No. 100.

  Events determined that No. 100 should consist of reports on rescuing historical documents and properties from areas hit by the great disaster of 11th March. We were able to procure a car from a supporter, and on 4th April, and 4 members of the executive visited the urban centre of downtown Ishinomaki, Ogatsu Town (now incorporated into Ishinomaki), and Kitamaki Town (ditto).

1) The Storehouse that Withstood the Tsunami: Downtown Ishinomaki, the Morning of 4th April

  On the morning of 4th April, we inspected the damage done to the city centre of Ishinomaki, one of the areas directly affected by this tsunami without precedence in memory.

  We entered Ishinomaki via the Sanriku Highway. After the highway entered the coastal plain leading up to Ishinomaki, we began to see piles of debris and automobiles which had been washed away, and rice fields submerged under seawater carried inland by the tsunami. When we left the highway and entered the urban areas, there was still sand on the road brought in by the tsunami. As we drove deeper into the city, both sides of the road were lined by the debris of furniture and home appliances piled up like rickety mountains. In the heart of the city, there were smashed houses and cars, the asphalt on the road had been torn up, and where the telephone poles and traffic light poles had been torn down it was difficult for cars to pass each other. However, here there were still buildings retaining their original shape. Even so, the landmark scenery which from Hiyori Yama down to the bay coastline and which had been the pride of the city was covered in a pile of wrecked debris.

Landscape of Downtown Ishinomaki(4/4,2011) "SOS" wrote in sand 
the warehouse standing in the rubbles(4/4,2011)
    Once inside Ishinomaki, we visited the H Family, at the behest of the local historical society. The house had been washed away by the tsunami, but the 2 story storehouse (dozou) which the owners had had reinforced to make it earthquake proof was still standing. It had withstood the impact of several houses being washed up against it, and was miraculously still standing. The ground floor level had been inundated with seawater, but the second level had escaped inundation, and the collection of old documents and other items stored here was mostly intact. We loaded the documents and other items into our vehicle to transfer them for temporary safekeeping in the Tohoku Historical Museum in Tagajo City.

2) Towns and Historical Heritage Obliterated: Ogatsu and Kitakami Towns

   In the afternoon, we drove from central Ishinomaki to the townships of Ogatsu and Kitakami. Before their recent incorporation into the Municipality of Ishinomaki, there 2 townships comprised the Town of Kitakami. As part of the process of researching and writing the local history of Kitakami Town some years ago, we had already identified several families with collections of historical documents which we had photographed, catalogued and placed in large acid-free paper envelopes to ensure their preservation.

   We entered Ogatsu via former Kahoku Town. We drove along the road built on the levee embankments of the Kitakami (Oppa) River up until the New Kitakami Bridge. As we drove on, the first signs of what was to come was when we saw that the vast natural fields of river reeds had been cut down flat, and that there were boats left stranded which had been washed there. There was one giant pine tree washed up; it probably used to stand in the pine forest planted at the river mouth to prevent sand erosion. As we drew closer to the Bridge, the scenery suddenly took a change, for the worse. The tsunami had completely ruptured the levee on the south side of the river, and houses and large buildings had been devastated. A temporary road had been built at just above water level through the devastation, and with high tide approaching, water had risen to cover the edges of the road. Moreover, about a quarter of the bridge had been torn away on its northern side, and the great trusses which had supported it had been washed some several hundred metres upstream.

   The damage to the downtown part of the area was even more extensive. Apart from the school, community centre and some other largestructures, all other buildings had vanished leaving no traces. Nothing had prepared us for the sight of seeing a large limousine tourist bus sitting on top of what had been the 3 story tourist facility centre. Apart from the occasional vehicle on emergency work that we passed, there was not a human being in sight.

   The N Family which lived here boasted a lineage dating back at least to the 16th century. Starting in 2000, over a period of 5 years we had visited this family many times as part of the process of researching the Kitakami Town History, and had photographed, sorted and catalogued their collection of over 12,000 documents. We followed the road along the coastline, dodging the scars left where the tsunami had torn up the road, and finally made it to the homestead. The house and storehouse, both dating back to the Edo Period (i.e. pre-1868) had been washed away, leaving only the stone foundations to mark where they used to stand. Looking at aerial photographs of the tsunami affected areas we already had forewarning of what to expect. On the other hand, after visiting the H Family in downtown Ishinomaki, we had come to hope against hope. However, our illusions were brutally smashed to pieces by the scenery that spread out before our eyes. Despite this, we still looked around amongst the wreckage and debris to see whether we could not find even just one document left there.
 The vanished warehouse
(April 4,2011)
 The warehouse before the quake
(April 2007)
   In order to get to Kahoku Town on the northern bank of the Kitakami River, we had to drive back up the river to find a bridge still standing to get to the other side, and then drive on down to where the main bridge had been washed away. In Kitakami Town too, settlement to the east (i.e. seaboard side) had been totally devastated. We had been introduced to the K Family who had a collection of documents by the branch office of the town government 2 years ago. We had completed preservation work here, but all the collection had been washed away by the tsunami. Due to limitations of time, we were not able to check all the families holding collections of documents in this settlement, but we were able to confirm that the prospects are grim for the other collections of documents etc that we had sorted and photographed for the Kitakami Town History project. Moreover, the computer server in the main building of the Town branch offices had been washed away and lost, along with the building housing it, in the assault by the over 10 metre high tsunami which hit this area.

   If I may be allowed to write on a personal note, the Kitakami Town History was the first time I participated in researching and writing a local history in Miyagi Prefecture. We worked together with the people who owned collections of historical documents and local historians within Kitakami and Ogatsu Towns, using new digital technology as part of the preservation work on these collections, and we made a point of making know what we learnt from the collections about local history to the people most involved, that is, the local people. It was the new style of speedily and effectively recording and preserving historical documents that we developed in this process that was to become the starting point for the original “Miyagi Method” of the Miyagi Shiryou Net. Losing almost all the historical record of this area to me is tantamount to having a whole part of my life torn out of my body. Not only that, but this huge disaster has resulted in the loss of the greater part of the historical record and heritage of the region that was the cradle to the Miyagi Shiryou Net.

3) Lives Saved and Digital Records Remaining

  I am very happy to be able to announce that in each of the areas we visited, fortunately everyone connected with our work in that area is alive and safe. All the families which owned the collections of historical documents had lost their homes and almost a month after the disaster, were still living in relief centres. Despite the difficult circumstances under which they were forced to live, they received our visit warmly and were able to rejoice in meeting us.

  Furthermore, the families of Ogatsu and Kitakami thanked us for having taken digital photographs of their collections, and said that although the originals have been lost forever, it was fortunate that we had taken proper photographs before the disaster, and when things had settled down, they would like us to give them copies of the digital record that we had preserved.

Summing Up

  Over the past 8 years, in cooperation with local governments and citizens, we have worked hard to preserve and digitally record the historical heritage of Miyagi Prefecture. Even so, we were not able to cover all of the area hit by this great disaster. However, the digital record that we had created and preserved in Sendai has been left intact this time. In due course, we will be able to return copies of this digital record to the original owners and regions. We have been taught through this very unfortunate lesson once more the importance of conducting historical preservation work in areas “before” they are hit by a disaster. After this disaster, even at this very instant, historical documents are being lost, minute by minute. Amidst all this loss, it is important that we try to find even just one more document, and record it. We plan to overcome this debilitating experience and continue our work to preserve the historical record and heritage of this region. We sincerely ask you for your continued support and cooperation in this effort.

(Translated by J.F.Morris, Professor of Miyagi Gakuin Women's University)

 Digest (No.102-113)   101(complete transration)  HOME