Iwate tsunami survivor erects wooden monument to warn others of high-water point


Yusaku Yoshida knew of a stone monument marking the high-water point of tsunami that hit the town of Otsuchi in 1933, but he realized local residents failed to recognize it when the March 2011 waves hit shortly after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake.

After considering how to effectively pass down lessons from the 2011 disaster in his hometown, Yoshida decided to make a monument of wood that decays and needs to be replaced every few years. The replacement work will help keep memories of the calamity alive, he reasoned.

The first wooden monument, erected four years ago, was replaced by a new one in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, on the sixth anniversary of the disaster on March 11 this month.

The monument was installed in a residential district on elevated land that was very close to being engulfed by the 2011 tsunami. Yoshida, a 20-year-old university student, and local high school students set up the new monument on the base used for the old one, as a few dozen people, including local residents, looked on.

At 2:46 p.m., the time when the mega-quake occurred six years ago, the people faced in the direction of the Pacific Ocean and offered silent prayers.

“I hope lessons from the disaster will be kept in people’s hearts,” Yoshida said.

The monument is inscribed with a message reading, “Flee to elevated land without stepping back if a large-scale earthquake strikes.” On the sides, local high school students added messages, including one that says, “Save your own irreplaceable life first if you want to save somebody.”

“More thoughts were put into the new monument,” Yoshida said. “I want to prevent people in the generations to come from having bitter experiences like ours.”

Six years ago, Yoshida’s house near the Otsuchi River was destroyed by the tsunami. He and his family were largely untouched, but many people in his neighborhood fell victim to the giant waves.

For Yoshida, the stone monument of the 1933 tsunami that sits at the center of the town seemed to be an obscure part of the landscape. “I suspect that when it was installed, the job finished, people didn’t heed its lesson,” he said.

Yoshida proposed a wooden monument to local residents he came to know through disaster reconstruction activities. After he raised funds for the monument via crowdfunding and cooperation from a local construction company and other parties, the first wooden monument was erected on March 11, 2013.

Yoshida said he believed memories of the disaster have been fading over the past four years.

He currently studies crisis management at a university in Chiba Prefecture, setting his sights on becoming a firefighter. Once he takes a job, he will likely find it difficult to take part in the project to replace the wooden monument next time.

Yoshida asked local high school students to draw up the messages on the monument in hopes of grooming successors.

“Our activity has no finish line,” he said. “The monument will turn out to be worth installing if as many people as possible who see it survive the next disaster.”