Wooden Monument Designed to Renew Tsunami Lessons across Time in Coastal Japan Town

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tadayoshi Oguni, right, a resident of the Ando district in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, stands next to a wooden monument talking to students of Otsuchi High School.

OTSUCHI, Iwate — A wooden monument that conveys lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake will be replaced with a new one on March 10 in the Ando district of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, the day before the 10th anniversary of the quake, which generated a tsunami that devastated the area.

Local high school students had the idea to use an impermanent material so that memories of the disaster can be renewed every four years when the wooden tablet is replaced. The students said they want to pass down the wishes of previous students through this monument.

A memorial service for tsunami victims will be held in front of the monument on March 11.

The first wooden monument was erected on March 11, 2013, two years after the earthquake. Students at Otsuchi High School proposed the idea to residents of the district, saying that a stone monument would eventually become a routine part of the landscape, going unnoticed by everyone.

The act of regularly replacing a wooden monument is itself an inheritance. The students’ passion on this point led the residents to choose such a monument.

The disaster took the lives of about 220 residents, or more than 10% of the population of the Ando district. Some died in the tsunami after deciding not to evacuate on the assumption that it wouldn’t reach that far inland, or when they returned to their houses to save their valuables.

Based on the lessons learned, a statement reading “Don’t go back, but climb a hill when a big earthquake comes” was inscribed on the monument.

The 1.6-meter-high wooden monument was set up with donations at a point 12.5 meters above sea level, where the tsunami reached. When it was replaced on March 11, 2017, the words on the front were the same, but statements were added on the sides: “If you want to save someone, save your own precious life first,” and “Be thankful for everyday life.”

This time, the high school students and the residents discussed changing the statements on the sides to “Daily preparation will make you smile,” and “Live for the future, while carrying the feelings of those who will not return,” expressed in the local dialect.

A 17-year-old student at the high school saw his grandparents’ house in the district lost due to the tsunami.

“We thought of including the word ‘preparation’ because we never know when an earthquake will occur. I hope these statements are carried over,” he said.

Tadayoshi Oguni, 80, who has been involved with setting up the monument, said: “The students came up with good messages. We’ll keep replacing it so the lessons don’t fade.”