KESENNUMA, Miyagi Prefecture–The carcasses of Pacific saury, left to rot after the power source for their refrigerator was knocked out.
It is among 200 photographs that are blunt reminders of the devastating forces of nature that tore into northeastern Japan two years ago.
Currently on display at the Rias Ark Museum of Art in Kesennuma, the 200 snapshots and messages speak volumes of the damage wrought by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 11, 2011.
All of the photographs were taken by museum staff members, and the accompanying messages were also written by them.
“I was wearing one mask on top of another, but it still smelled so bad that I was about to faint,” said the message accompanying the photo of the dead saury pike. “I began to tremble and felt physical danger. I could not eat saury for some time.”
The photographs and messages are part of a permanent exhibition titled, “Documentary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and History of Tsunami,” which opened in April.
The exhibition starts with a photograph taken from the museum’s rooftop of central Kesennuma dimmed by the dust rising from homes being swept away by the wall of waves.
“We took photographs then and there because we experienced something firsthand,” said curator Hiroyasu Yamauchi. “We wanted to present it.”
Also on exhibit are 155 pieces of wreckage retrieved in Kesennuma and neighboring Minami-Sanriku, such as a buckled utility pole, a squashed car, a gas cylinder and a stuffed doll.
Attached postcards eloquently tell how those who knew life in the region before the disaster felt.
“I was amazed to see reinforcing bars wriggling out from a utility pole just like grass growing out from the ground,” said a message written by Yamauchi in the broad local dialect.
“Watching objects damaged by the disaster takes on a meaning only when you imagine what lies beyond them,” Yamauchi said, adding that the messages on the postcards are designed to lead visitors to imagine it.
Tile fragments in checkerboard, arabesque and polka-dotted patterns from destroyed bathrooms and washrooms may not be as shocking as some displays, but the various patterns show how different people lived different lives–those lives now lost to the disaster.
Toward the end of the exhibition, a photo presentation on how the Sanriku coastline changed due to reclamation says residents of some areas do not remember tsunami damage prior to damage caused by the 1960 Great Chilean Earthquake.
A commentary points out that the 2011 tsunami should have been anticipated.
About 100 key phrases, such as “relocation to higher ground” and “remains of disaster,” and the explanations of what they mean, show much remains for us to think about and work on.
Local residents have accounted for about 60 percent of visitors to the permanent exhibition. Some have expressed appreciation for the museum’s work.
The museum plans to update the exhibition in about three years, incorporating changes that have taken place in the region.
By AIKO MASUDA/ Staff Writer