Restorer in tsunami-hit Sendai reunites photos with owners

Chunichi Shimbun

If a stray photo has an owner, Kaori Nose will try to reunite them.

Nose has been helping people recover lost photos since losing her parents’ home to the March 2011 monster tsunami that hit the Tohoku region. The massive waves washed away parts of her seaside hometown of Sendai before her very eyes. Now Nose, 35, is the director of the nonprofit organization Omoide Kaeru (roughly translated as “Returning Memories”), based in Kanie, Aichi Prefecture.

She set up the volunteer group with some friends after learning about photo rescue activities on the Internet in January 2012, 10 months after the disaster, and subsequently getting involved in photo recovery work.

On a recent visit, the group, consisting mainly of mothers, met at an old child-care facility in Kanie. After setting up the tables, they restored the photos, gently removing sand from them. Then they numbered them.

The photos they have restored include shots of weddings and sports meets, as well as fading black-and-white pictures.

A photo of a young child had its name, age (1 year and 3 months old) and a note written on the back: “Starting to express wishes in broken sentences. Keeps wanting to go out. Scared of daruma dolls.”

“I would be very happy if one of my photos turned up here,” said one of the volunteers.

Nose has worked on hundreds of photos containing other people’s memories and family histories. She said she began to realize that “even if my house is gone, it doesn’t mean that my life up until then has disappeared along with it.”

The restoration work also helped her overcome her sense of loss and accept reality, she said.

Through her work, she met her current husband, 34-year-old Tomohiro, and moved to Kanie after getting married in April 2013.

Nose has also held exhibitions in Sendai four times to return photos to their owners. A total of 10,239 photos were returned during a 10-day exhibition in March this year. Of more than 300,000 photos collected so far, almost 110,000 have been returned.

When the exhibition was first held, some people were sad or angry when they couldn’t find their photos. Others broke down in tears when they found one.

However, Nose said she sensed that visitors were taking more positive attitudes recently.

“I’m so glad I found my photo,” one said.

“I saw a photo that belongs to my friend and I can’t wait to pass it on to her,” said another.

“Different people place different values on photos. There are some who feel no attachment to their photos,” Nose explained.

Nose said she plans to continue restoring photos and reuniting them with their owners, even though some people might not feel ready to see them, and noted that once precious shots found in the debris are returned, it helps people move on and resume their lives.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on July 6.