Digest (No.102-113) 100（complete transration） ＨＯＭＥ
No. 101 (10th April, 2011)
News from the Disaster Area in Eastern Japan (no. 2)
This is SATOU Daisuke of the Executive Office of the Miyagi Shiryou Net.
We have received many letters of encouragement in answer to our previous
newsletter. I would like to thank everyone. There was another large tremor
on the evening of the 7th of April. We are concerned about further damage
to cultural properties already damaged by the earthquake on 11th March.
This Newsletter brings you another report on our activities within the
disaster affected area. On 5th April, we inspected the areas of Murata-chou,
Iwanuma-shi, and Watari-chou, in southern Miyagi Prefecture.
Murata- Machi, Iwanuma-Shi, Watari-chou.
1) Documents Found in a Buddhist Altar in Murata
The inland town of Murata flourished during the late Edo Period (1600-1868)
as a region producing safflower, a valuable commercial crop used as a dye
in textiles and cosmetics. In the centre of the town today there still
remain several buildings built in the distinctive white and black stucco
plaster “warehouse” style of the merchants who accumulated small fortunes
in the safflower trade. The layout of the town is reminiscent of Kyoto,
and the town advertises its historical heritage to attract tourists.
There are few news reports on the damage done by the earthquakes inland
and away from the tsunami affected areas, including Murata-chou. However,
Murata was one region where we were concerned about the extent of earthquake
damage, and we conducted an inspection there on the morning of 4th April.
The O Family of Murata was one of the leading dealers in safflower in
the region, and after the safflower trade declined in the Meiji Period,
the family maintained its position as a family of local prominence. The
family owns a collection of some thousands of documents recording its history
in the region. The present head of the family lives outside of Miyagi,
and the warehouse style store/house and attendant warehouses and collection
of documents have been donated to the town government to use as a tourist
facility. A group of historians including myself under the auspices of
the Ouu Shiyou Chousakai catalogued and photographed these documents over
a period of 6 years from 2003.
We were concerned about the damage caused by the earthquake of 11th March
not only to the buildings, but also to the collection of documents which
we had catalogued and which were stored in one of the warehouses. Immediately
after the earthquake we contacted the Cultural Properties Department of
the Town Office and were able to confirm that the buildings of the O Family
were still standing, and the documents housed within were safe.
On the other hand, we also contacted the present head of the Family,
who told us that he had discovered some previously unknown documents in
the drawers in the family buddhist altar when he had visited Murata just
before the earthquake. He was undecided as what to do with these documents,
and the earthquake hit before he was able to make up his mind. He wanted
to rush back and investigate the situation, but with the current collapse
of the traffic system, he could not get to Murata. Post-quake tremor activity
was still at a high level, and when we offered to retrieve and save the
documents for him, the family head asked us to do so. Rescuing these documents
was another purpose of our visit of inspection to the region.
The documents in the altar were exactly in the place described by the
Family head. We investigated the altar ourselves, and found that there
were several drawers built into it, containing a large number of documents
from the Edo Period. After gaining the consent of the Family head, we extracted
these documents to take with us back to the Network’s headquarters in Sendai.
One of the participants was an architect, who inspected the damage to
the house and buildings. One of the zelkova wood pillars in the house was
damaged, and in need of immediate repair to prevent it coming apart in
any further tremors. We did not have enough personnel to inspect the documents
we had already catalogued and which were stored in the warehouse, nor were
we able to check whether the roof there was leaking water, so we had to
leave the task of confirming the state of the rest of the collection of
documents to another day.
After what we had witnessed the day before in Ogatsu Chou in Ishinomaki,
what was most inspiring for me today was not that we were able to discover
hitherto unknown documents. Rather, it was that we were able to save documents
which had survived this great disaster. Today’s rescue operation was a
good example of the benefits of carrying out rescue operations with the
full cooperation of the owner of the collection and the Historical Properties
Department of the local government. The success of this operation gave
us the energy necessary to continue with our work.
2) The Earthquake and Damage to Traditional Buildings: the Case of Murata(2)
Looking at the old warehouse-style buildings within Murata, including
those of the O Family, you would think that they were all seriously damaged.
There were cracks in the walls, roof tiles had fallen off, buildings were
not standing up straight. The house of the O Family needed immediate repairs
to one of its pillars, but the local government office had already investigated
the inside of the building and were in the process of deciding how best
to deal with the damage.
On the other hand, according to the local participants, the damage to
the warehouse-style buildings of Murata was most likely not as bad as it
looked. For example, the foundations of the buildings were as solidly as
possible, the pillars were built of thick zelkova wood which is now almost
impossible to procure, and the majority of them appeared to have been spared
irreparable damage. The sections of stucco plaster wall which had collapsed
were already old and in need or repair before the earthquake, and the core
structure of the buildings was still intact.
Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the damage to the buildings appears
to be very extensive on first appearance. People used to modern architecture
do not understand how these traditional buildings are built to withstand
earthquakes, and jump to the conclusion that these buildings are damaged
beyond repair on the basis of our initial impressions. People carrying
out safety inspections of buildings after the earthquake appear to be too
ready to plaster the red “Condemned” stickers on traditional buildings,
and this is spurring on the further unnecessary demolition of traditional
buildings after the earthquake. So far our group has been mainly concerned
with the preservation of historical documents, and at this stage, we do
know how we should approach this problem of preserving buildings. However,
in light of how serious this problem is, we plan to seek the advice of
specialists on appropriate measures to save these buildings until proper
repairs can be made.
3) Easy to Say but Hard to Do: Saving the Legacy of your Forebears in Iwanuma
On the afternoon of the 4 we crossed on over to Iwanuma. We visited 6
Families which we had identified beforehand as having important collections,
with a member of the Cultural Properties Protection Committee as our guide.
The families we visited received us well, despite the fact that our visit
was sudden and unannounced.
Each of the families that we visited had traditional buildings, either/and
houses and warehouses, and as in Murata, here also there were many visible
outer signs of damage to the buildings. Some had already undergone the
initial damage evaluation conducted by local government, and had had the
red “Condemned” sticker plastered on them.However, on closer inspection,
these building did not appear to have suffered irreparable damage. One
owner said that because the earthen wall had collapsed it was possible
to visually check the pillars in his building, and that he had decided
to repair it instead of demolishing it.
At another house beside the Sendai Eastern Highway, the tsunami had come
right up to the garden, but the warehouses which once had been used to
gather and store local produce and the house had been spared serious damage.
However, the walls of the 100 year old stucco-plaster warehouse had collapsed
completely, leaving the pillars and internal structure exposed. According
to the family head, he could not afford the cost of repairing this warehouse,
and that he would probably have to have it demolished. He said that there
many old documents stored in this warehouse, and we asked him to call us
to rescue these documents before the building was demolished.
3) A Township Hit by the Tsunami at the Mouth of the Abukuma River: Arahama,Watari
The town of Watari, on the southern side of the Abukuma River opposite
from Iwanuma, suffered extensive damage from the tsunami. We also visited
Arahama within Watari. Arahama is a fishing village and former port at
the mouth of the Abukuma River.
We visited the M Family, where we had conducted an investigation of their
collection of documents some years ago. The M Family had been responsible
for controlling river traffic on the Abukuma River, and had a collection
of documents related to this historical role. Part of the collection had
been entrusted to the town museum, but documents dealing with river traffic
in the 19th century were still in the Family’s keeping. These documents
had been used as padding in the sliding paper doors (fusuma) of the old
family house, and were discovered when the old house was demolished to
make way for a new house. It was doing the retrieval and restoration work
on these documents when I first experienced this aspect of historical preservation.
I come from northern Fukushima, and I remember fondly the excitement of
discovering place names from my home region scattered throughout these
There were many signs of tsunami damage throughout Arahama. As in the
townships we visited the day before along the mouth of the Kitakami River,
gaping holes had been broken through the 7 metre high levee banks of the
Abukuma River. The house of the M Family was still standing in recognisable
shape, but it was obvious that the ground level had been flooded. There
was no one at home, and we were not able to confirm what had happened to
In some of the neighbouring houses had a large “X” made of white tape
plastered on them, indicating that someone had become a victim there. According
to a local who spoke to us, most of the victims were elderly people who
were not able to escape in time. Our informant told us that the head of
the M Family had escaped the tsunami and made it safely to a relief centre,
but had apparently passed away at the next point he had evacuated to.
We placed a wreath of flowers we had brought with us in an appropriate
place and then departed. Today, we were able to rescue one collection of
documents, but we also experienced a sad separation from an old friend.
(Translated by J.F.Morris, Professor of Miyagi Gakuin Women's University)
The family head of M Family has been confirmed safe at the later time.