art, yomiuri shinbun

Painted flowers brighten tsunami-devastated city, yomiuri, 4/22/12

IWAKI, Fukushima–Masses of flowers are blooming in the coastal area of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, painted there to brighten the city and console the souls of March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami victims.

Some local residents initially gave the project a cool reception, worrying that the brightness might irritate bereaved families. But its aim to cheer up residents and commemorate the victims has become more and more accepted.

About 40 people joined the activity this month, painting flowers along a route primary school children take to school.

Hiroshi Sadanaga, a 38-year-old artist from Tokyo, came up with the idea when helping with debris disposal as a volunteer in Hisanohama in the city last July. About 10 people, including local residents who wished to brighten up the barren scenery, used stencils and spray paint to make flower patterns on collapsed houses or their foundations that were slated for demolition or removal.

“I wanted them to be well decorated on their day of dismantlement,” said Sadanaga.

Some residents expressed concern that such activity might hurt the feelings of bereaved families. Participants made steady efforts to win over the owners of such houses, explaining that they were painting the flowers with prayers for the repose of the victims and the reconstruction of the city.

One member of the flower-painting group, Takashi Katsube, 40, moved to the city from Sapporo with a strong desire to do something to help the disaster area.

Teachers at the municipal Toyoma Primary School also embraced the concept. This February they asked the group to decorate the route to school.

Part of the route is in the Tairausuiso district, where 90 percent of the houses were swept away by tsunami. A seawall more than 300 meters long beside the route was overwhelmed by tsunami. Its ruined condition is part of what children see every day as they take a bus to school along a road that also passes piles of debris.

With permission from the prefectural government, which manages the seawall, about 40 people, including local residents and children, gathered on April 8 and 15 to decorate it with paintings of colorful flowers such as cherry blossoms and tulips. They also brightened up the foundations of some houses. Smiling children said the ruins had now become beautiful.

The group has so far colored debris in four districts in Iwaki. One of the members from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, has also started a similar activity in that tsunami-ravaged city.

Seeing the activity starting to spread, Katsube said he would try to expand it even further.

(Apr. 22, 2012)

About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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