Preserve, utilize valuable firsthand data on Great East Japan Earthquake

Websites that collect records of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake are a means to pass on memories and lessons learned from the unprecedented disaster to future generations, disseminating them both at home and abroad. It is vital not only to preserve such valuable materials, but also to increase the number of places where they are utilized effectively.

Public organizations including local governments, as well as private organizations in disaster-stricken areas, have been working mainly to create paper records of the disaster, build facilities for the purpose of carrying on the memories to future generations, and foster storytellers.

“Earthquake archive” online websites, which digitize related materials, have also been set up one after another.

It is significant to preserve precious records in a way that prevents them from deteriorating over time and to pass them on to future generations. As the number of generations with no experience of the disaster increases, the importance of such records will grow ever greater.

Hinagiku, a portal site for records and reports of earthquake disasters that is operated by the National Diet Library, is connected to 56 sites nationwide and allows users to access videos, sound recordings, photos and other materials in an integrated manner. The site has about 5 million searchable items.

Such materials at Hinagiku are said to be used by local governments nationwide to draw up new disaster prevention plans based on damage from past disasters, or by educational institutions to create teaching materials for disaster prevention education.

While it is important to visit the remains of disasters and related facilities to carry on the memories to future generations and hear firsthand the experiences of storytellers, online archives have the advantage of being available anytime and from anywhere.

With fewer people visiting the affected areas of the 2011 disaster due to the coronavirus pandemic, the use of digital materials also can be a way to continue the activities of passing memories along.

In Iwate Prefecture, high school students who were young children at the time of the disaster used photos from a local archive to create a video introducing the tsunami and other damage to people in Yokohama.

It is important to expand such efforts.

On the other hand, as 11 years have passed since the quake, some organizations have begun to close their archives, for such reasons as the costs of maintaining and operating them becoming a financial burden.

Norinchukin Research Institute Co. and the Japanese Red Cross Society’s Red Cross Nuclear Disaster Resource Center each closed their digital archives last year and transferred their data to Hinagiku. The National Diet Library said it has received inquiries from other organizations that are contemplating closure.

According to the National Diet Library, if there is no appropriate organization to take over the operation of archives that are to be closed, the library will consider transferring the materials preserved in those archives to Hinagiku. However, due to systems issues, not all of the data can be inherited as is.

It will be necessary to facilitate organizing and taking over the archives based on the characteristics of each organization, through such measures as integrating archives that collect similar materials in the same prefecture.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 17, 2022.