Tsunami Memorials

On July 25, The Japan Times published an article “Tsunami-hit structures eyed as memorials“, which discussed the different opinions people have on whether to preserve some damaged buildings and other ruins left behind by the tsunami on March 11, 2011. I want to use this opportunity to give my opinion on the matter. From the article, about the ruins of the Minamisanriku disaster prevention office:

For local residents, however, the building is now a source of anxiety.

“My heart always aches at the site [sic!] of it. It’s preventing us from moving forward toward reconstruction,” said a 44-year-old woman who lost her nearby home in the tsunami triggered by the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake.

from The Japan Times

I can understand how she feels. I can get very sad when looking at pictures of the tsunami and the damage caused by it, and I vividly remember the earthquake and what I saw when I went for volunteering in the affected area. Seeing the ruins day-to-day must have a much larger impact. Still, there is another side to the memories and emotion:

In Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Yuki Matsumoto, 55, hopes his tsunami-engulfed hotel in the coastal city’s Taro district will be kept as a monument.

The six-story hotel was submerged to the fourth floor and nothing but the bare iron frame remains.

Before the March 2011 catastrophe, Matsumoto had been told by his elders about past tsunami disasters that had laid waste to coastal areas of Iwate.

“I had no other way than to picture for myself what I heard. We need something that can show the horrors (of tsunami) clearly,” Matsumoto said.

from The Japan Times

This is why I’m very much in favor of preserving some ruins as memorials. I think it is crucial that future generations can see the destruction caused by the tsunami for themselves. No-one of us who experienced the earthquake will forget, but our children or grandchildren might, and if that happens, people will once again live too close to the sea, forget to prepare for possible tsunami, and many will die when the next big tsunami comes. “Memories for the Future” is a website that offers before and after photos from Google Street View, which provides a very strong impression of the damage.

Also, while the memories are sad, I feel it is good to have something to remember by. For me, looking at the pictures and remembering is an important part of dealing with these difficult memories, and I wish I could visit a memorial some time when I’m in Japan again.

The reconstruction plan in Minamisanriku calls for destroying 36 public buildings.

“We have drawn up plans that include the use of the land vacated by the buildings,” a city officials said. “We will begin work as soon as we gain the consent of local residents and choose a demolition company.”

from The Japan Times

I don’t think preserving one or two buildings and a bit of free space to set up information panels would take up too much space. Sure, it is additional work and costs, but well worth it in the long run.

What I would like to see are small memorial parks, each including some kind of damaged structure, distributed along the coast. Not too many, to be considerate to survivors who don’t want to be reminded too often, but enough that everyone who wants a place to remember can easily reach one and that every child will visit as part of disaster preparedness training, either with school or with their parents (preferably both). Let us try to keep the memories for the future, and preserve places for mourning and remembering!

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