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The remains of a local elementary school that was heavily damaged by the March 2011 tsunami unleashed by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake were opened to public viewing in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Sunday.

The Ishinomaki Municipal Government has completed a facility that allows visitors to look at the old building of Okawa Elementary School from up close. In a museum within the school grounds, photos of the inside of the building and schoolchildren’s evacuation routes on the disaster day are on display, offering lessons on disaster preparation and response at schools.

The city government decided to preserve the old school building with explanatory panels around it. Visitors are not allowed to enter the building, but can view classrooms that are laid bare due to the destruction of the walls, as well as a twisted connecting corridor, from outside the fence.

A total of 84 children, teachers and staff workers died at the school in the monster tsunami.

On March 11, 2011, the children stood by in the schoolyard for about 45 minutes after the quake at the instruction of teachers. They were engulfed by the tsunami soon after they began to evacuate.

Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, where 84 children, teachers and staff workers died in the March 2011 tsunami, was opened to the public as a memorial on Sunday. | KYODO
Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, where 84 children, teachers and staff workers died in the March 2011 tsunami, was opened to the public as a memorial on Sunday. | KYODO

Victims’ families filed a lawsuit, and Sendai High Court’s ruling that the school had been inadequately prepared for the disaster was finalized in October 2019.

Exhibits at the museum include documents showing actions taken by the children soon after the quake, a diorama of the area around the school and explanations of the course of events related to the lawsuit.

After making the decision to preserve the site in 2017, the Ishinomaki city government started construction work in April 2020. It aimed to open the facility in April this year, but instead continued discussions with victims’ families about the content of the exhibition.

After touring the exhibition, Toshiro Sato, 57, who lost her sixth grader daughter in the tsunami, said the school’s disaster preparations also need to be explained, along with how the decision to preserve the school building was reached.

“They need to continue efforts to communicate (the disaster experiences) so that (visitors) can understand easily,” she said.

Kunihiro Matsumoto, a 39-year-old from Tokyo who visited the facility Sunday, said, “I got a better understanding by seeing the exhibits in the museum after looking at the school building. I think it’s important to pass down what happened here to posterity.”

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