National | Regional Voices: Tohoku

Tohoku residents try to keep memory of 3/11 quake and tsunami alive through VR and wreckage

Kahoku Shimpo

Conveying the fear of when a massive earthquake and tsunami strike is no easy feat.

But eight years on from the disaster that shook the nation to its core, schools, municipalities and museums in the Tohoku region devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 are trying to keep the memory of the national crisis alive and raise awareness of the importance of disaster prevention.

The city of Akita created a tsunami simulation system incorporating virtual reality, with viewers walked through a mock evacuation in the event of a massive earthquake, allowing them to get a more realistic experience of what would happen should a disaster strike.

The simulation system, and an accompanying video, shows what would happen in the event that an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.7 hit the sea off Akita Prefecture, triggering an upper 6 quake on the Japanese seismic intensity scale in the city of Akita. Takanobu Kamataki, an associate professor at Akita University, oversaw the simulation system and video.

The city created the system in the hope that the realism and fear conveyed through VR and the video clip will raise awareness of disaster prevention.

A trial event was held on May 27 in Tsuchizaki Ward, where Akita Bay is located.

The participants put on VR devices after watching the short clip showing what a tsunami engulfing Tsuchizaki Ward might look like. It showed a situation in which evacuees were unable to make their journey because one of the roads was caved in. Through VR, the participants tried to reach the nearest evacuation center through the debris and devastation left by the tsunami.

“I found it difficult because I didn’t know how to navigate the roads, but I learned a lot” from the simulation system, said 8-year-old Shotaro Sato.

The simulation system will be available at the Hokubu Civic Service Center located in Tsuchizaki Ward, and it will be used for future disaster prevention courses as well. The video is available on Akita’s official YouTube channel.

On the other hand, farther south in Miyagi Prefecture, the city of Kesennuma is keeping the memory of the 2011 disasters alive by preserving the wreckage left by the tsunami at what used to be the building for Kesennuma Koyo High School.

The building reopened in March as the Ruins of the Great East Japan Earthquake Kesennuma City Memorial Museum.

Throughout May, the site attracted junior high and high school students from outside Miyagi Prefecture who were visiting as part of school excursions to learn about the Great East Japan Earthquake.

“I felt personally affected seeing the havoc wreaked by the tsunami with my own eyes,” said Akito Sawada, a 14-year-old student from Sapporo who visited the facilities in May with his classmates from Yamahana Junior High School.

After listening to the first-hand experiences of those who had survived the earthquake and tsunami, the students went to the uppermost floor of the building to see the annex buildings that had been submerged, as well as a connecting corridor that still had the wreckage of cars piled up on top of one another by the tsunami.

“The tsunami had reached much higher than I’d thought, which was really surprising,” said Rin Takeuchi, 14, from the same school.

The school had usually spent its class excursions visiting tourist spots around Aomori, Iwate and Akita prefectures. However, it decided to change its plans this year and included the museum in the itinerary.

“I wanted the students to learn about disaster prevention and mitigation. I also hope they’ll take something home from seeing the people of Kesennuma rebuild their lives after the disaster,” said Takateru Ichiki, the supervising teacher.

Some 600 students from six junior high schools, some as far away as Chiba Prefecture, visited the facilities in May alone, but the museum is also urging middle and high schools within the prefecture to visit the facility as well.

“Here, at this facility, you can learn about the realities of the disaster as it happened. I’m hoping that many junior high and high school students visit and learn from the disaster,” said Katsumi Sato, the museum’s president.

This section features topics and issues from the Tohoku region covered by Kahoku Shimpo, the largest newspaper in Tohoku. The original article was published on May 28.

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