Volunteers urge preservation of Japan's quake ruins

JAPAN - Volunteers are calling for the preservation of remains of buildings damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, as many such structures have been demolished.

According to local volunteers who survived the disaster and have dedicated themselves to passing on their firsthand accounts of it, the structures should be preserved for posterity to teach lessons about the March 11, 2011, disaster.

As many bereaved families have said they cannot stand to see the remains and preservation would entail huge costs, some such buildings and structures have already been demolished.

The 330-ton Kyotoku Maru No. 18, which had been swept ashore into the former city centre of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, was dismantled in October.

The municipal government studied the possibility of preserving the ship, but about 70 per cent of surveyed residents said it was not necessary to do so.

"[Without the ship,] it's going to be hard [for visitors] to feel the power of nature, which carried such a massive fishing boat 800 meters inland," said Mikio Ogata, 66. He serves as a guide, showing visitors from outside the prefecture how the city has progressed in its disaster reconstruction efforts.

Ogata now uses photos mounted on panels to talk about the boat at the site where it was swept ashore.

Demolition work was started in December on a former disaster management centre in the Unosumai district of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture. More than 200 lives are estimated to have been lost there following tsunami.

The city plans to construct a memorial monument at the site, and Kamaishi's volunteer tour guide association plans to show visitors the site using pictures.

"Many bereaved families say they can't bear to look at the building so they want it demolished...but there's no way to explain the quake more effectively than by showing the ruins," the association's chairman Tatsuo Miura said.

The Reconstruction Agency unveiled a policy in November to shoulder the initial cost for preservation of one site per local government body.

The agency committed ¥210 million (S$2.5 million) to preserve Taro Kanko Hotel in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, which was reduced to the bare skeletal remains of its lower floors following the quake.

Many local governments, have continued discussing whether such remains should be demolished or preserved. The government office for disaster prevention measures in Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, where 43 officials and others were killed or went missing, is one such site.

"Once the ruins are demolished, we can never get them back. We should take more time to discuss this matter for the sake of future generations," said Noriko Abe, 51, the proprietor of a hotel in Minami-Sanriku that operates a guided bus tour about the disaster.