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Overturned phone booth used to ‘contact’ tsunami victims to be repaired, asahi shinbun, 1/9/15

OTSUCHI, Iwate Prefecture–A nonworking telephone booth used by grieving family members after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami is set to undergo repairs after it was toppled by strong winter winds that buffeted the coastline on Jan. 7 and 8.

The “Kaze no Denwa Box” (phone booth of the winds) was set up following the Great East Japan Earthquake for survivors to “call” loved ones lost in the disaster.

The rotary-dial telephone box was used by roughly 10,000 people in the three years since it was installed. Many visitors were also seen this year.

Immediately after the incident, Itaru Sasaki, 69, the owner of the installation, said, “I cannot face the many scarred people who come here with the phone booth in such a condition.”

Sasaki set up the phone booth in his garden shortly after the disaster. After examining the damage on Jan. 8, he feared the structure could not be saved, but carpenters and others who rushed to the scene the following day concluded that it could be.

“I received offers of support from people across Japan,” Sasaki said. “I’m relieved to hear that it can be repaired and put back up.”

Repairs are scheduled to begin Jan. 10.

As the booth’s door was destroyed, a new one will be made and installed at a later date.

Gutted structure to be preserved as reminder of tsunami devastation, asahi shinbun, 1/8/15

SENDAI–The shell of a municipal building that stands as a symbol of the devastation caused by the 2011 tsunami disaster is to be taken over by the Miyagi prefectural government with an eye on preservation.

The 12-meter-high three-story disaster-management center building in Minami-Sanriku’s coastal Shizugawa district was gutted by waves of up to 15.5 m after the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake struck.

Forty-three residents and town employees were swept away.

The building withstood the onslaught, but was stripped bare with only its skeletal structure remaining. It became a site of mourning for many people.

However, the town government struggled to keep up with maintenance costs and decided in September 2013 to dismantle the structure.

Minami-Sanriku residents are divided over the building’s fate. Some believe it should be left as it is so future generations understand the extent of devastation, while others say the mere sight of it brings back painful memories.

To address these concerns, the prefectural government held a meeting of an advisory council in December to discuss preservation of other sites as well.

The council concluded that the structure had become “well-known around the world as a symbol of the disaster,” and that it was on par in terms of symbolic power with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, or Atomic Bomb Dome. It recommended that the Miyagi prefectural government undertake its management.

The prefectural government decided to preserve the building on behalf of the town government out of consideration for survivors, as well as the economic strains faced by Minami-Sanriku. The town government is expected to accept its decision.

As public opinion remains divided on whether or not to permanently preserve the structure, the prefectural government will manage the building until 2031, the 20th anniversary of the disaster, before making a final decision on the fate of the structure.

The prefectural government’s decision reflects similar delays that affected the Atomic Bomb Dome, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Hiroshima city council made its final decision to preserve the structure only in 1966, 21 years after the city was leveled in the atomic bombing.

Coming-of-age ceremony held in Katsurao village, 1st in Fukushima Pref., 1/3/15

A coming-of-age ceremony was held at a restaurant in the town of Miharu on Jan. 2 for new adults from the village of Katsurao where all residents have been evacuated in the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co., marking the first such celebration in Fukushima Prefecture this year.

It was the fourth straight year for Katsurao to organize a coming-of-age ceremony in Miharu, where the village office is temporarily located. Of 20 new adults registered, 18 attended the event, with all women dressed in the traditional costume of long-sleeved kimono known as “furisode.” Of the male participants, some wore “hakama” or skirt-like trousers while others were in business suits.

At the start of the ceremony, participants observed a moment of silence in tribute to victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Village head Masahide Matsumoto then handed an adult certificate to each. “We are going to greet the fourth anniversary of evacuation soon and our hopes (for recovery) are getting bigger bit by bit,” he told the audience. “Wherever you may live, please keep interested in village affairs and take action for the hometown whenever you feel any urge to act.”

On behalf of the new adults, Toshiya Matsumoto, a junior-college student in Takikawa on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, said he would like to recognize the reality of having lost precious seniors in the disaster and being forced to continue living as evacuees, pledging to behave as an adult in a responsible manner.

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