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Libraries, bookstores aid efforts after Kumamoto earthquakes

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Mami Nishimura shows some of the Kumamoto Earthquake-related items collected in front of lockers storing the items at the municipal library in Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture.

By Shinya Machida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Friday marked the first anniversary of the first major temblor during the Kumamoto Earthquake. The disaster claimed more than 220 lives. While survivors suffered from the interruption of gas, electricity and water services, and feared aftershocks, what were the considerations of people working in book-related fields? A Yomiuri Shimbun reporter visited libraries and bookstores in Kumamoto Prefecture to find out.

In Mashiki, a town in the central part of the prefecture seriously damaged by the series of quakes, the municipal library has established a corner called “Shinsai Bunko” (archive of earthquake-related items).

The library asked local residents to donate various materials related to the disaster to be placed in the corner. The materials include photographs and items distributed at the time as well as posters put up in the wake of the disaster and programs from events that took place.

The collection includes sheets of paper with messages on them such as “Get rid of leftover food,” and “Showers can be used on the 29th [of the month],” that had been posted on noticeboards in shelters. There are also tickets for bento box meals.

More than 10,000 such items are among the collection at the library. They vividly illustrate the situation at the time of the disaster.

“The staff of the library want to preserve memories of the earthquake for future generations,” said 50-year-old librarian Mami Nishimura.

After the major quake, many of the about 130,000 books on the library shelves ended up on the floor, and lighting equipment was also broken.

Local residents who had evacuated their houses gathered in the library and laid their bedclothes near the counters, where there were no books.

Later, to offer evacuees even the slightest distraction, the library placed books by the entrance so they could freely read them.

In June, the staff opened a temporary library and held events such as a meeting for casual conversations. Nishimura’s house was damaged and she was temporarily living in a tent.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The Kumamoto Prefectural Library after it was returned to normal

“I felt relieved to do any kind of work,” she said.

The municipal library in October resumed service. Many of the 4,000 books lent to residents were returned. As of February, the number of missing books had fallen to 475. Nishimura said she felt how deeply the town residents love books.

The Kumamoto Prefectural Library in the city of Kumamoto fully resumed its service on March 29 after partially reopening.

The prefectural library stores 1 million books and other items. Many of the books had been knocked to the floor in the quake, forming piles nearly a meter high in the aisles, and bookshelves in the storerooms had toppled over.

The staff found it difficult to continue collecting material while also cleaning up the books. As a cultural base for the prefecture, the library is strictly required to collect and store every single issue of the various newspapers and magazines published in the prefecture.

Making residents smile again

Kenichi Nagasaki, 38, who runs two Nagasaki Shoten bookstore branches in Kumamoto, recalled the days immediately following the disaster, saying, “After experiencing the earthquake, I really felt that books were essential for our daily lives.”

After the main tremor, about 40 percent of the books fell off their shelves in both stores.

But there was no serious damage to any facilities or equipment in the stores. Both were able to start up again by operating temporarily or opening for limited hours soon after the disaster.

Nagasaki continued to run his business, even as his house was without water for about 1½ months.

When copies of Corocoro Comic, a manga magazine published by Shogakukan Inc., were delivered to his stores, he displayed notices saying “Corocoro is available” at the store entrances. He hoped that local residents would rediscover the pleasures of their usual daily lives.

Nagasaki also collected articles from book industry publications that had appeared just after the Great East Japan Earthquake, to utilize lessons from the disaster. He used the information as a reference when placing orders with publishers.

Maps sold well, as did a book featuring Doraemon. The book — “Doraemon no Jishin wa Naze Okoru, Do Mi wo Mamoru” (Doraemon explains why earthquakes occur and how you can protect yourself) — is for parents and children to learn about earthquakes and sold more than 100 copies in the stores.

As evacuees spent longer and longer in shelters, drill books for children to study sold well. Nagasaki felt how closely books are connected to people’s everyday lives.

Hisako Tajiri, 47, who runs Daidai Shoten Orenji, a bookstore and coffee shop in Kumamoto, sent a message to The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 22 last year, just after she reopened her store.

“My customers had smiles on their faces when they told me they felt relieved to see the lights on in my store. Their smiles made me feel relieved,” she said.

Tajiri moved the store to a different location in late October last year.

“I consider it important that my customers can spend their time in different ways in my store,” she said. “I’ll continue this business in such a way that I do not disrupt my customers’ regular lives.”Speech

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