Children and grownups in Higashimatsushima, a city in Miyagi Prefecture that was devastated by the tsunami from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, are now able to read around 1,500 picture books donated by Taro Gomi, a well-known author of children’s books.
The donation was made possible by the efforts of people in Ota Ward, Tokyo, who have been supporting Higashimatsushima since shortly after the disaster struck.
“I was at a loss in the face of the mountain of cardboard boxes,” Mari Murayama, who coordinated the donation, recalled of the day at the end of March last year when she saw the picture books in Gomi’s old house in Tokyo.
Murayama, 52, had hit upon the idea of sending the books to Higashimatsushima several days before Gomi told her that he was looking for somebody to take the books off his hands prior to moving to a new house.
Coincidentally, Gomi was also thinking that his books should be offered to a disaster-hit area once the situation stabilized and local people felt the need for them.
“A very good marriage was done,” said Gomi, who has written more than 400 books, including “Where’s the Fish?” and “Everyone Poops,” over a career that has spanned 40 years.
More than 1,000 residents died in Higashimatsushima and around 74 percent of all of the houses in the city, perched next to the Pacific Ocean, were destroyed or badly damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.
“With 65 percent of the residential areas of our city flooded by water from the tsunami, two out of the five library branches were damaged. A lot of books lent to citizens were also unaccounted for,” said Yoshitaka Kato, a deputy librarian of the Higashimatsushima Public Library.
“That means around 13,000 books, which was equal to 10 percent of all the possessions of our library, disappeared,” Kato, 43, added.
Ota Ward launched its Higashimatsushima support program the month after the disaster struck, when volunteers traveled to the area to help remove mud and do other jobs.
About two years later, Murayama, who works for a library in Ota Ward, had a chance to present books to the city, but she knew she could not do it by herself.
In response to a request from Murayama, Ota Ward provided a room to temporarily store a total of 3,000 donated books and solicited volunteers to sort them.
“Sorting the books was tough, but making lists was even tougher as we really didn’t know how many kinds of books were included,” said Murayama. She instructed the volunteers to make lists of the books provided so that people in Higashimatsushima could easily select what they needed.
As Gomi’s books have been translated into more than 10 languages and published in more than 20 countries, books in various languages, including French, Tamil and Sinhalese, were listed.
A wider range of people, including high school students and evacuees who had moved to Tokyo after being forced to leave Fukushima Prefecture because of the nuclear crisis, joined the volunteers from April through September last year.
“What I kept in my mind was to send books that were in good condition,” said Murayama.
As a result, books in English were selected to be sent to Higashimatsushima, where they could be used in the library and in schools, while Ota City Library gave a home to the others, including those written in languages other than English.
“I am pleased we could contribute to the people in Higashimatsushima even a little by sending very attractive books with brilliant colors,” Murayama said.
Higashimatsushima librarians are distributing the books, which reached the city in September, to library branches, schools and meeting places, and are establishing a special section for Gomi’s books in the libraries.
“It is obvious that children are pleased to read the books given by the famous author that their mothers are familiar with,” said deputy librarian Kato.
“I hope warmth will be nurtured in children if their fathers and mothers read to them books given as warm support,” he added.