Eternal reminder: Teen erects tsunami monument

Kyodo

Yusaku Yoshida, a 16-year-old high school student in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, has put up a wooden monument on a hill in the town on March 11 so the memory will forever remain of the tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region exactly two years ago.

About 30 townspeople who gathered for the ceremony nodded when they read the monument’s inscription: “When a big earthquake occurs, go to an elevated place without returning.”

In January, Yoshida mentioned on his Facebook page the idea of “erecting a wooden monument to pass down memories of the tsunami to people 1,000 years from now because (the memories) will be renewed when it is rebuilt every few years.”

He received many encouraging responses from people who read the message.

The massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami of March 11, 2011, ravaged the town of Otsuchi, leaving 10 percent of its population dead or missing. Yoshida survived the disaster by running up a hill with several friends.

Everyone in his immediate family also survived. Their home was washed away, however, and they lost many relatives and acquaintances.

Yoshida thought he had to do something to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy when he attended a meeting of high school students last December to discuss disaster prevention.

When he heard someone say “we should flee to an elevated place in case of tsunami,” Yoshida thought “that’s easy to say but we couldn’t. That’s what happened in Otsuchi.”

He also thought: “There are things we can pass on to other people because we experienced (the tsunami).”

Yoshida then created a Facebook page and posted his resolve to prevent another tsunami tragedy.

In cooperation with the Tokyo nonprofit organization Katariba, which supports children in the disaster-damaged areas, the first-year student at Otsuchi High School began to seek a place for the monument and a company to erect it.

Residents of the Ando district of Otsuchi initially rejected Yoshida’s plan to build the monument there, but his zeal eventually won them over. They also decided on the monument’s inscription.

The wooden monument will be rebuilt every four years.

“He will be 20 years old next time,” Tadayoshi Oguni, 72, deputy chief of the local neighborhood association, said as he looked at Yoshida. “I cannot wait to see what kind of a man the boy will become.”

The tourism industry in Fukushima Prefecture continues to struggle because of the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

While 57.17 million tourists visited Fukushima in 2010, the number plunged 38 percent in 2011 and has yet to really recover.

To address the situation, the prefectural government has begun a program to incorporate disaster victims talking about their experiences into local tours.

At an inn in the town of Inawashiro in February, a number of victims, including Toyomi Makita, a 50-year-old fisherman, and his wife, Miyuki, 48, from the city of Minamisoma, talked about their experiences with 54 students from a junior high school in Oarai, a town in Ibaraki Prefecture, who were staying there for a ski camp.

The session came about after the school asked the prefectural government to arrange for the students to learn about the situation facing the people in Fukushima.

Toyomi Makita said he could no longer continue fishing because of the nuclear accident, and his family of five had to live separately in three cities because their home had been washed away by the tsunami.

The Makitas are among some 140 “storytellers” registered with the prefectural government to talk about their disaster experiences for tourists.

While Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures were seriously damaged by the 2011 disasters, tours in support of reconstruction efforts are rarely arranged for Fukushima due to the nuclear accident, a problem the other two prefectures aren’t facing.

“We want people to come to Fukushima and listen to victims as part of support for our reconstruction,” said a prefectural government official in charge of tourism.

In Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, the Rias Ark Museum of Art, which is known for its unique building modeled after an image of Noah’s Ark, opened an exhibit of photos and goods to show the devastating damage of the disasters.

The museum escaped serious damage as it stands on a hill, but many of its staff members lost homes and relatives.

Hiroyasu Yamauchi, 41, is one of them.

Although the Sanriku region covering the three prefectures has been hit by massive waves many times, Yamauchi wondered why there had not been enough preparation for the 2011 tsunami — and so decided it must be recorded accurately and passed down to future generations.

Yamauchi and other staff members took 30,000 pictures and collected about 250 articles from the rubble.

The permanent exhibition displays these items as well as past records, including drawings used in press reports about the tsunami of 1896.

People can come up with ideas of what should be done for reconstruction by recognizing tsunami disasters the Sanriku region has experienced, Yamauchi said.

“We are responsible for preventing a recurrence of the same mistake.”