Scholar to help restore Kesennuma treasures

Chunichi Shimbun

An engineering scholar at Toyohashi University of Technology in Aichi Prefecture is helping to restore cultural assets damaged by the March 2011 tsunami in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, in an effort to make them “a symbol of reconstruction” in the coastal city not far away from his hometown.

Hideo Izumida, an associate professor at the university, was born and raised in Misato, Miyagi Prefecture, some 60 km south of Kesennuma. Watching news of the devastation of Kesennuma, which he has known since childhood, Izumida, 57, felt as if the many fond memories he held of his hometown had also been swept away.

In May last year, he traveled to Kesennuma by himself, hoping to do something to help restore the fishing community there.

The streets in Kesennuma are dotted with Western-style buildings constructed during the late Taisho Era to the early Showa Era. The town flourished as a major base for deep-sea fisheries and started to be influenced by Western culture during the Meiji Era.

In the old towns of Sakana and Minami, there are streets lined with two- and three-story wooden buildings reminiscent of classic European edifices with pillared corridors. One can also find in the area old rice shops and sake breweries with storehouses that have thick earthen walls and Western-style circular windows.

However, five of the buildings that are state-designated tangible cultural assets, including the Otokoyama Honten and Kakuboshi Tenpo, were damaged by the tsunami.

During his visit to Kesennuma, Izumida found that the ground floors of some buildings were completely washed away and the walls of some storehouses had caved in. Among the five cultural assets, the pillars of the buildings were fractured in places and in one storehouse, there was a 3-meter-long crack across one mud wall. Strips of daub that had peeled from the wall littered the floor.

Izumida was shocked at the severity of the damage, but upon further examination, he discovered that all five buildings can be restored.

“I want to help with the reconstruction of Kesennuma, even though I have to work far from Toyohashi,” he said.

Previously, Izumida gained experience restoring storehouses during the 2007 Noto Peninsula Earthquake. He wrote a letter to the Kesennuma board of education saying he wants to make use of his knowledge and experience to contribute to the restoration of the cultural assets.

The true challenge lies in finding the large sums of money to cover expenses as some structures will cost tens of millions of yen to renovate.

In response to Izumida’s appeal, the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based organization dedicated to preserving ancient and historic sites, has offered to provide financial help. The nonprofit organization had previously helped with conserving a temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

If all goes to plan, construction work in Kesennuma is scheduled to begin on Aug. 1.

“I hope to raise the citizens’ spirits by rebuilding the old stores as a symbol of the city’s reconstruction progress,” Izumida said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the local daily Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published May 23.