Evacuees, students help empty Fukushima town preserve its history

Tomioka Erinnerung

September 24, 2015

By MAKOTO TAKADA/ Staff Writer

KORIYAMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Local government officials, evacuees and students are saving personal documents and other historical materials from destruction in a municipality rendered a virtual “ghost town” by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Tomioka town government, which now operates from Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture, has asked residents for help in the preservation project, saying materials kept at a museum alone cannot show the entire picture and history of local people’s lives.

Although they now live in other municipalities, Tomioka residents have so far provided the town government nearly 10,000 historical materials, including many from the late Edo Period (1603-1867) to the Showa Era (1926-1989).

Handwritten letters, a book on women’s morals, traditional Japanese “kacchu” armor and a photo of a ceremony celebrating the renovation of a local school in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) are among the personal materials that have been offered.

Many items were kept at warehouses of long-established families or merchants in Tomioka.

“We want our citizens to know anew the history and culture of our town,” said Hidefumi Sanpei, 36, a member of the town preservation project team.

The entire town of Tomioka, which had around 16,000 residents in 2010, was evacuated after the disaster unfolded at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Since then, many empty houses in Tomioka have fallen into disrepair or been demolished.

Fearing the loss of precious historical materials at these homes, the town government formed the project team in June 2014.

In August this year, the town government concluded an agreement with Fukushima University to preserve the materials. Students at the university had been engaged in the preservation activities since November 2014.

On Sept. 16, researchers and 15 students from Fukushima University gathered in a branch facility of the town government’s temporary office in Koriyama for their third meeting.

The students numbered the materials, took digital photos and created catalogs.

“This is a valuable experience,” said Naoki Yamaoka, 22, a senior at the university who hopes to become a public servant after graduation.

“Our students can implement what they learned in their classes, including one on archiving,” said Tsuyoshi Tokutake, a 35-year-old associate professor of local history at the university. “They can also contribute to the local society.”