Tsunami-ravaged school in Miyagi Prefecture to be opened to public in April

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kadonowaki Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, as seen on Jan. 31

Kadonowaki Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which was damaged in a fire sparked by the 2011 tsunami, is to be opened to the public in April as a remnant of the damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

It has been almost 11 years since the earthquake. Forty ruins related to the tsunami are expected to be open to the public for the anniversary.

The future will determine how to best convey the lessons of that day to later generations and how to improve the content of what is passed down.

Inquiries conducted with officials of coastal municipalities in three prefectures by The Yomiuri Shimbun found 40 ruins of structures and buildings damaged by the tsunami in 18 municipalities. This fiscal year has seen the opening of sites including Ukedo Elementary School in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, with the Kadonowaki site expected to be the last.

Kadonowaki is the only site to have been hit by the tsunami and then caught on fire. The three-story school building made of reinforced concrete was almost completely burned out. Teachers and other evacuees fled from the school’s second floor to find safety in the mountains.

Classrooms are still filled with burnt desks and chairs, as well as melted glass from the windows. In addition to sediment indicating that tsunami swept through repeatedly, two temporary housing units will be displayed in the gymnasium.

Yuichiro Sato, 68, was vice principal at the time. “Coming face to face with the remains will engrave the horror of the tsunami on people’s hearts and make them think about how to prepare for something like this,” Sato said.

To reduce maintenance costs, the city has removed both ends of the 107-meter school building, leaving only the middle 67 meters. The total project cost of ¥1.33 billion will be paid for by a central government reconstruction grant.

In 2013, the government established a system to subsidize the initial costs of preserving the ruins of one site in each municipality. However, because the maintenance costs are to be mostly covered by admission fees, there are concerns the sites could become a burden on municipalities.

“We created a compact site for the ruins to keep down maintenance costs, but the coronavirus pandemic has reduced the number of visitors, which has created a larger burden than we expected,” said a town official who manages the ruins of Nakahama Elementary School in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture.

Municipalities such as Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, are allocating revenue from the hometown tax system.

“If ruins are dismantled, the sites will become weathered, and people will lose the desire to pass things on,” said Tohoku University Prof. Emeritus Arata Hirakawa, who chaired an expert panel in Miyagi Prefecture. “I understand the feelings of residents who don’t want to remember, but I’m happy that we have so many ruins.”

Hirakawa also said tour routes that connect ruins in different municipalities, or to other tourist sites, should be created, to encourage people to visit, and young guides should be trained.