original article: http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0002023691
The Yomiuri Shimbun ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi — Local residents in the Okawa district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, have decided to call for the municipal government to preserve the school building of Okawa Primary School, where 84 children, teachers and other school employees died or went missing in tsunami following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, as a remainder of the disaster.
The decision was made on Friday at a meeting of the Okawa district restoration council, comprising local residents and others. The council plans to soon submit a petition to the municipal government to turn the area into a park, leaving the school building as it is.
The council invited about 400 households in the district to a meeting held on March 8 and conducted a questionnaire survey of the 126 attendees on how to deal with the school building. Nearly half, or 57 people, responded they wanted to preserve the whole building, 37 said they wanted to dismantle it, three hoped to partially preserve the building and the rest turned in a blank survey.
“Although some people said the number of respondents was too small, we respected the result,” said Mikio Otsuki, 72, chairman of the council.
People’s opinions are divided on preserving the school building. While some ask for it to be preserved as “a place that conveys the terrors of tsunami,” others call for it to be leveled it as “it brings up painful memories.”
ONAGAWA, Miyagi Prefecture–After a four-year wait, trains are up and running the full length of the restored JR Ishinomaki Line, which was ravaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
The first train left Onagawa Station at 6:12 a.m. on March 21. The first incoming train arrived at 7:30 a.m., greeted by a throng of residents waving flags used to celebrate large catches by fishing boats.
The entire line extends 44.7 kilometers through Miyagi Prefecture, eastward from Kogota Station in Misato to Onagawa Station via Ishinomaki Station in Ishinomaki.
The 2.3-km stretch through the last two stations of Urashuku and Onagawa had remained unconnected after tsunami up to 20 meters high swept the tracks away.
Major facilities, including the Onagawa station building and town government office, as well as 70 percent of all households, were destroyed, and 827 people, accounting for 8 percent of the town’s population, perished.
Though all services on the line were halted due to the disaster, the line’s operator, East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), partially restarted operations in April 2011.
Service on the rest of the line resumed in March 2013, with the exception of the final two stops.
Urashuku and Onagawa stations were reopened to passengers after the completion of work to elevate land in the town in case of a future tsunami. The downtown area where the latter station is located was raised by as much as 15 meters in some areas.
The station’s new building, which was designed to resemble the silhouette of a black-tailed gull spreading its wings, cost 850 million yen ($7 million) to build.
With service now available on the entire line, trains will be making a total of 11 runs a day.
ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture–A project to sell novel paper cranes lovingly created by a trio of women living as evacuees after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster has found its wings: thanks to the assistance of a former first lady.
The unconventional cranes are distinguished by the increased number of pleats in their wings, making them appear as if they are about to take off.
They have already found favor at high-profile events, even gracing the tables at a banquet held last December by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for Southeast Asian leaders.
High-end hotels, like the Imperial Hotel in central Tokyo, have started selling them at their shops. The Imperial Hotel sells a pair of gold and silver cranes for 500 yen ($4.80), alongside traditional gifts such as Japanese sweets. It has sold 20 sets since sales began in July.
The cranes are folded by Noriko Sato, 50, and two fellow evacuees living in temporary housing in Ishinomaki. The women painstakingly fold the paper because it, with gold and silver flake, is delicate.
In July and August, 3,500 of the origami cranes were shipped around Japan. Each woman receives 100 yen for each origami.
Sato, the group leader, said the proceeds helped her buy a kimono for her daughter in time for the coming-of-age ceremony in January.
But monetary gain is not the sole purpose.
“When you’re living in temporary housing and there isn’t much to do, you tend to see things negatively,” said Sato, whose home was destroyed in the March 11, 2011, tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. Her woes did not stop there, however. She was later diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When I fold origami, I can put life’s difficulties out of mind and stay positive,” she said.
Some 4,000 residents of the coastal city of Ishinomaki were swept away by the towering tsunami.
The crane-folding project is the brainchild of Sanae Ochiai, 61, a former principal of Irifune Elementary School in Yokohama.
A few weeks after the disaster, she decided to take early retirement. She loaded her van with a tent and other equipment and headed for Ishinomaki to assist with recovery efforts.
After temporary housing was built for survivors, Ochiai held a handicraft workshop at a communal site there. She hoped that it would give strength to those who had lost relatives and homes in the disaster.
However, news reports of suicides and other deaths of temporary housing occupants that went unnoticed by neighbors persisted.
Ochiai dug deep and in spring 2012 used her savings to renovate a clothing shop into a meeting place for women living in makeshift homes to chat and share their problems.
Not long after, the residents at the temporary housing facility where she was assisting received a large number of colorful unconventionally folded origami cranes. The sender was Kiyoko Fukuda, a 70-year-old resident of Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.
Ochiai had no idea that the sender was the wife of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Kiyoko had begun sending her origami birds to evacuees as presents to cheer them up after reading newspaper reports on their lives at temporary housing sites.
Kiyoko was known for waging “paper crane diplomacy” by presenting them to the wives of world leaders who visited Japan, as well as using them as ornaments at the Group of Eight Hokkaido Toyako Summit in 2008 hosted by her husband.
Kiyoko learned her technique of folding cranes through an acquaintance while her husband held office.
Ochiai brought together the women at the temporary housing site so Kiyoko could teach them how to fold the cranes.
Impressed by the finished product, Ochiai suggested that they should try to sell them. All three women jumped at the opportunity.
At first, the origami birds were a tough sell. When one of the women took them to a hotel in Ishinomaki to pitch as a gift for a celebration event hosted there, she was snubbed. “Nobody wants to spend money on cranes,” a hotel official told her.
However, their fortunes took an upturn after the Imperial Hotel–where an event was held to commemorate Yasuo’s mother who passed away late 2013–agreed to sell the ornaments.
Kiyoko worked hard to get orders from hotels around Japan.
The trio opened a shop this summer to sell the cranes, other handicrafts and seafood products. Their lease on the shop expires in November. But there are high hopes that sales of the origami will continue at the hotels.
It was the inspiration and eagerness of Hitomi Nakanishi, an Australia-based Japanese scholar, that led to the publication of an English-language book with recollections and photos of the experiences of 100 survivors of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in and around Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.
Nakanishi, 37, an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Canberra, told The Japan Times last week that she wanted as many people as possible around the globe to know about the book, which she believes will help prepare them if a disaster hits their own country.
The book is an English translation of the Japanese version, which was published in 2012 by Tokyo-based publisher Junposha Co.
The same publisher released the English version on March 10 to commemorate the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami.
The stories in “Surviving the 2011 Tsunami: 100 Testimonies of Ishinomaki Area Survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake” first ran in the Ishinomaki Kahoku newspaper from June 2011 to March 2012 in a series titled “My March 11.”
The newspaper is published daily by Sanriku Kahoku Shimpo Co., headquartered in Ishinomaki.
Nakanishi came across the Japanese book when she visited the newspaper publisher in summer 2012 during a tour of the tsunami-affected areas in Tohoku.
She was immediately struck by the astounding accounts of the tsunami that swept the coasts of Ishinomaki, Higashi Matsushima and Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture, and soon came up with the idea of publishing the book in English.
“I asked via the Internet for volunteers who would translate Japanese into English, and soon managed to gather 26 volunteers — both Japanese and Australian,” she said.
Sixteen Australian volunteers — most of them English teachers that Nakanishi found with the help of the Japanese Embassy in Canberra — did the editing and proofreading.
One of the subjects in the book, 35-year-old Yukako Sasaki, vividly describes how, pregnant and with just days to go before her due date, she climbed the stairs to the third floor of her sister’s house — worried all the while that her water might break and she would suddenly give birth. With her niece, she spent the night in the house while down below muddy floodwaters shattered the front door and inundated the first floor.
“After a sleepless night, the piled-up cars and the people who had most likely lost their lives were visible from the window. I could tell that something really awful had happened, but if I looked outside, my pains would appear so I waited inside the storage room to be rescued,” Sasaki is quoted as saying in the book.
She gave birth to a boy six days later.
Another survivor, Masayoshi Kotono, 49, recalls: “Houses and cars being washed away by the tsunami, raging with fire, were now coming toward me. I would rather drown than be burned to death, I said to myself and jumped into the water. It was perhaps this desperate decision that determined my fate.
“No matter how hard I tried to swim, I was swept back to the hillside again and again by the force of the waves. I couldn’t reach the building. Just when I felt the muscles in my arms and legs had reached their limits, I grabbed on to some rubble that just happened to come floating toward me. I was washed away several hundred meters and then managed to crawl onto a house I had landed on by chance,” he said in his testimony.
Nakanishi cited two reasons for seeing her book project through.
For one thing, she believed that people around the world could use it to prepare for a possible disaster.
“One can find many tips in the book on how the Japanese prepare for a disaster in daily life on a personal level — such as which route to take and where to evacuate, how one can cooperate with the neighbors, etc.,” she said.
“This is very useful for the people of the world to know — especially for people that live in areas that may be prone to natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami. They can apply the knowledge and information from what is written in this book. It’s important to let them know how important, and how much difference it will make for each person to prepare for a disaster.”
Secondly, Nakanishi said, she thinks the knowledge and experience contained in the book can also be useful in the field of urban planning. For example, “even with a 5-cm water level difference, some towns were washed away, and some weren’t,” she said.
“In the 2011 tsunami, water came from different parts of the ocean in a complex form. I think this can be sample material to investigate further about landscape and urban planning,” she added.
Mina Nishisaka, 35, a volunteer translator based in Tokyo, said that she couldn’t stop crying when she translated the stories.
“The stories were so vivid that I had to stop typing many times — just thinking about the horrific experiences the survivors had to go through,” she said.
“For those of us who did not actually experience the Tohoku disaster, the horrific scenes we witnessed that day (on TV and other sources) are not as vivid as they were three years ago. People tend to forget, and sometimes that is one way to move on, but this book reminds me that we must not forget the lives lost and the precious lessons we learned from this tragic disaster.”
She added that giving the stories an English voice “allows these lessons to be shared all over the world.”
“Keeping the voices of the tsunami survivors alive is one of the most important things we can do to save lives when and if another disaster should strike,” she said.
Another volunteer translator, Motoko Kimura, 35, said that not only does the book provide a good lesson about the tsunami disaster that many can learn from, but each story also tells the reader about “the value of human lives, human dignity amidst despair, and the courage and spirit of cooperation among the victims at the time of the disaster.”
“It’s often difficult for Japanese information to reach the world due to the language barrier — especially such things as the truth of the March 11 disaster,” she said.
“I hope that as many people as possible from abroad — including those who live in Japan, those from countries that have earthquakes, and countries that are now trying to recover from war or a disaster — to take a look at the book.”
Project leader Nakanishi said that disaster prevention and reduction are being emphasized today, and that it’s important “to learn from the disasters that already happened, and prepare ourselves for the future.”
“In this book, there are so many photos and maps, and the words of the survivors,” Nakanishi said. “I think it’s a very rare piece of publication. I would like lots of libraries around the world to possess the book and use it as valuable information in the years to come.”
An NHK survey shows that an increasing number of people who evacuated after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami have left the temporary housing where their families live.
NHK conducts an annual survey at a temporary housing complex in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi Prefecture. The 1,100-unit Kaisei housing complex is the largest in the affected areas.
370 people responded to the 3rd survey this year. 33.2 percent said some family members have gone to live elsewhere. That’s a 40 percent increase from the survey taken 2 years ago.
38.4 percent said their families had to split up because the living space was too small. Some others cited worsening family relations and divorce.
Professor Yasuo Yamazaki of Ishinomaki Senshu University, who studies the lives of the evacuees at the Kaisei complex, says younger people are leaving temporary housing because it is inconvenient to commute to work or school.
He says it is important that municipalities and volunteer groups work together to support those elderly people who tend to get left behind.