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Remembering 3/11

3.11 Memorial Network: Japanese Rescuers of The Tohoku Disaster

How should people remember the disaster? Nonprofits like 3.11 Memorial Network are helping Tohoku communities convey the lessons and history of March 11, 2011.

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Masaharu Nakagawa | Managing Director of the  3.11 Memorial Network

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in its history. A massive earthquake and tsunami hit the country's northeastern coast, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. In the aftermath of the disaster, a group of volunteers came together to form the non-profit organization, 3.11 Memorial Network (formerly known as 3.11 Mirai Support).

The city of Ishinomaki, located in Miyagi Prefecture, was one of the hardest-hit areas. Over 3,000 people lost their lives and countless others lost their homes and businesses. Masaharu Nakagawa, Managing Director of the 3.11 Memorial Network, is one of the many volunteers who rushed to Tohoku to help with relief efforts after the disaster. 

During an interview with JAPAN Forward, Nakagawa discussed his experiences over the past 12 years.

Volunteering in Tohoku

Nakagawa was in Fiji on a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer mission for environmental education when he heard the news about the disaster in Japan. He quickly decided to return to Japan. Starting out in his hometown, Kyoto, he volunteered to sort supplies and ensure that they were delivered to those who needed them most in the Tohoku region. 

Eventually, he decided to go to Ishinomaki, where the tsunami had caused significant damage. Ten years later, he is still working hard to promote disaster management education.

3.11 Memorial Network

The 3.11 Memorial Network aims to build a community of people dedicated to remembering the victims of the disaster. It is committed to building a more resilient society. 

The network's goals include keeping the memory of the victims alive, promoting disaster preparedness, and fostering a strong sense of community among those affected by the disaster and those who support the network's goals.

To achieve these, the 3.11 Memorial Network has organized several activities. They include annual memorial events on March 11 to commemorate the victims of the disaster, candlelight vigils, music performances, and moments of silence. 

The network also conducts disaster preparedness workshops to educate individuals and communities on how to prepare for and respond to disasters. Additionally, it hosts community-building activities such as art exhibitions, cultural events. It also creates volunteer opportunities to bring people together and foster a sense of solidarity.

The 3.11 Memorial Network serves as a powerful example of how a tragedy can bring people together to promote positive change. Through its efforts to honor the victims, promote disaster preparedness, and foster community, the network is working towards creating a safer and more resilient society.

Storytelling and 3.11 Memorial Hall Minamihama Tsunagukan

Nakagawa believes that the stories of what happened on March 11, 2011, must be told to enable people who didn't experience the disaster to comprehend its significance. He started with "storytelling" activities, with survivors telling visitors about their experiences. 

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3.11 Memorial Hall Minamihama Tsunagukan

As reconstruction proceeded, however, Nakagawa and others felt that storytelling was not enough to convey the lessons of the disaster. For that reason, the 3.11 Memorial Hall Minamihama Tsunagukan was opened in 2015. It has easy-to-understand displays of the area hit by the disaster, such as 3-D models and digital displays. 

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Tsunami Info AR App

They also developed an augmented reality (AR) tsunami app. Using it enables visitors to view the tsunami damage in certain locations in Ishinomaki on their smartphones. The Bosai Machiaruki program that uses the app is the first of its kind in Tohoku.

Role of Nonprofits

Memorial parks and other facilities have been built by the National, prefectural and municipal governments to convey information about the disaster. However, more than this is required to fully advance understanding of the disaster and utilization of these facilities. 

Nonprofits like 3.11 Memorial Network are therefore taking on roles that are not handled by the government. 

In fact, the organization opened another facility called MEET Kadonowaki in March 2021. Coneveniently, it is located in front of the Ishinomaki Minamihama Tsunami Memorial Park and the Kadonowaki Elementary School

MEET Kadonowaki

Tellling local residents' stories of sorrow and hope is the purpose of MEET Kadonowaki. It also works to increase visitors' awareness of disaster management.

Memorial Network
MEET Kadonowaki | Ishinomaki

It features personal effects on loan from families and also records words of gratitude for volunteers. And it has a theater with a large screen where visitors can view images of the actions people took to evacuate at the time of the earthquake. 

Disaster management education for children is the emphasis of the facility. Young storytellers who were children at the time of the disaster talk about their experiences to children who did not experience it. There are touchscreen panels created with the support of a manga artist, for example. Using these, visitors can experience the disaster through user-friendly content. And there are classes in which visitors can discuss their disaster management plans based on what they experienced at MEET.

Ishinomaki has just marked the twelfth anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Meanwhile, the city's landscape has undergone significant changes. At the same time, the memories of the disaster remain vivid in the minds of its residents. And importantly, they are determined to pass on their experiences to future generations. 

MEET Kadonowaki has an abundance of resources and support. With that, it stands as a symbol of hope and resilience for the region. It also embodies Nakagawa's heartfelt wishes for the continued recovery and prosperity of Ishinomaki.

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Author: Shaun Fernando