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Restoring Japanese history wiped out by killer tsunami
Buy this photo » Louise Hancock with pictures showing work on the restoration project
IT IS a fate “unthinkable” for Oxford’s historic Pitt Rivers Museum of archaeological treasures, a wall of water decimating its interior.
But that is what happened to three institutions that told the history of the city of Rikuzentakata, Japan, when a tsunami hit in 2011.
The March 11 tsunami killed more than 2,000 of its 23,000 inhabitants in a disaster that sparked the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Rikuzentakata City Museum, the Museum of Oceans and Shellfish and Rikuzentakata City Library were destroyed in the onslaught and more than half the city museum’s curators died.
Now the Pitt Rivers is to tell the story of the painstaking attempt to retrieve and restore 65,000 photographs damaged by the flooding.
The loss of such treasures struck a chord with Philip Grover, Pitt Rivers’ assistant curator for photograph and manuscript collections.
He met those behind the project in Japan during a visit last year and offered to showcase their hard work at the South Parks Road museum.
Mr Grover said: “It is unthinkable and that is an example of why this project is important, they are trying to use techniques that haven’t been implemented before. I wanted to provide something a bit more positive than the stories we normally read about the tsunami. It is a focus for people to come together and pool their resources.”
Surviving Tsunami: Photographs in the Aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake opened yesterday and will run until March 30.
It includes copies of some of the restored photographs and images of how they were restored. More than 60 volunteers from The Rikuzentakata Disaster Document Digitalisation Project first laid out the collection of prints, glass plates, film negatives and slides to dry.
Much of it was badly damaged by silt and salt water, and the glass plates had to be carefully separated with a razor blade.
It’s an ongoing project with those involved hoping to document more than 65,000 photographs, many of which record life in the Tokyo region over the last century.
Spokeswoman Louise Hancock said: “The exhibition gives a different view of the disaster.
“Instead of all the pictures of destruction we were used to seeing, people were trying to restore order afterwards and a sense of continuity with the past.”
The 2011 Tsunami
The quake hit at 2.46pm local time on March 11 and measured 8.9 on the Richter scale, a point above the 1906 quake that devastated San Francisco.
Its epicentre was 15.2 miles below the Pacific Ocean, sending a 30ft-high tsunami towards the north east of the country.
About 16,000 died in the resulting chaos, causing about 25 trillion yen – £2bn – of damage.
The six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was badly damaged, leading to the evacuation of tens of thousands as radiation escaped.
A Government-commissioned study found that the plant and regulators failed to prepare for such a large tsunami, such as through extra construction.
It has been disabled and will take decades to dismantle while Japan last month shut down its last reactor in response to the disaster.
- Surviving Tsunami: Photographs in the Aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake is at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford until March 30 next year.
- The project’s director, Keishi Mitsui, who is also curator of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, will give a free talk on the process on Friday, October 25. The event will be held at St Antony’s College, in Woodstock Road, at 5pm.
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