This panel, presenting on the response to the tsunami in Japan in 2011, was composed of Masashi Amano, Kazuko Hioki, Tomoko Yasuda Ishimaru and Daishi Yoshihara. Drs. Amano and Yoshihara are both historians, and Ms. Yasuda is a conservator in private practice in Tokyo. Ms. Hioki is a conservator in the United States, and special thanks goes to her for her excellent translation during the question and answer sessions.
The presentations brought to light a number of interesting cultural differences that may be surprising to an audience from North America. The majority of public records (according to Dr. Yoshihara, the number may be as much as 90%) are held privately, rather than my public or governmental institution. This means that when a disaster occurs, it is often difficult to find out who is a stakeholder, what records are involved, or even where those records are. Often, historic sites contain records, but just as often records, historical and modern, can be found in attics and in community centers. This would include tax information, birth and death records and legal documents.
The prevalence of natural disasters in Japan makes creates another important difference.it It si very difficult for insurance companies, a very conservative business in Japan, to provide coverage in the event of a natural disaster. This means that public institutions and private collections cannot rely on the insurance industry to pay for recovery companies, and as a result, recovery companies have a much reduced presence in Japan. The end result is that, when natural disasters occur, Japanese individuals and institutions cannot rely on the same emergency response structure that we in North America.
The presenters spoke about their work helping disaster recovery after the 2011 tsunami, but much of their presentations focused on Shiryo-net (the Miyagi chapter which responded to the tsunami has an english language blog). Shiryo-net is a grassroots organization of historians and volunteers who respond to disasters specifically to deal with conservation issues, such as finding out where in a town records may be kept, rescuing those records, and performing triage treatment whenever possible. Shiryo-net formed after the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in 1995, and has grown to 24 regional chapters across Japan.
Since its inception, Shiryo-net has focused on saving those 90% of documents that are not in museums, libraries and archives. Its activities are entirely funded by membership dues and donations. The organization first came into contact with conservation on a more formal basis in the wake of a flood in Hyogo prefecture in 2004. During this disaster, they were able to work with conservators to develop first aid treatments that could be taught easily to volunteers, and the difficulties they encountered encouraged them to host workshops and become a center of volunteer training for conservation volunteers. When another flood occurred in Hyogo in 2009, the response was much quicker, and the level of care given to documents was much better. Shiryo-net is now an experienced organization, and focuses on leadership training and volunteer education as well as disaster response.
The second major focus of the talks given by the presenters was on Shiryo-net’s response to the 2011 earthquake and Tsunami. The obvious difficulties of working in a disaster area were present, as were the difficulties of working with a large, non-professional force. Over the course of the recovery, Shiryo-net worked with over 5,000 volunteers, and had to develop techniques for training, supplying and managing such a large and ever-changing population. Because of the scale and scope of the disaster, salvage operations were ongoing as much as three years after the disaster. Since the tsunami, Shiryo-net has rescued more 70,000 items, with at least 50,00 items still in storage waiting to be treated.
The presentation was informative and engaging. It was interesting to hear about the different challenges faced in a different country, and how those challenges have been met or overcome. I would like to thank the presenters again for being so forthcoming with their talk materials as I prepared this post.