Local efforts continue to preserve disaster monument

Jiji Press RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate (Jiji Press) — Yuichi Yonezawa believes he owes his life to the three-story building that used to house his company in the tsunami-swamped city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.

On March 11, 2011, Yonezawa ran up to the roof of the building and climbed the chimney to narrowly escape the onslaught of seawater that surged to a height of about 14 meters above ground level, just below his feet.

Grateful for surviving the tsunami unscathed and determined to hand down his experience in the horrors of the catastrophe, he decided to preserve the building in a city center area where most other structures have been removed and land elevation work is making progress.

Yonezawa, 53, has so far escorted a total of about 2,500 people on tours of his building. He accepts as many tourist requests to see the building as possible and has also been interviewed by a foreign television station.

Every time he sees a good response in the faces of visitors, he renews his sense of mission to preserve the architectural remains.

Maintaining the building comes with a heavy financial burden, however. He has to pay more than ¥500,000 in fixed asset tax beginning this year, while demolition would cost ¥5 million.

“Sometimes I think I’ve done a stupid thing,” Yonezawa confessed. “But without the building, I wouldn’t be alive and I couldn’t share my experience with others.”

With few other buildings or features offering testimony to the scars from the disaster, Yonezawa said he is bearing up under the burden “at least in my generation.”

He is determined to continue to preserve the building as long as he can but wants to avoid passing the burden onto his daughter, who is now of elementary school age. He plans to secure the funds needed for demolishing the building by the time his daughter reaches adulthood, although he can’t know her future decision.

In a similar vein, residents of the Tabito district of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, continue private efforts to maintain a fault caused by a strong earthquake on April 11, 2011, the biggest aftershock of the 9.0-magnitude temblor on March 11.

The fault, as deep as 2.1 meters, stretches about 14 kilometers. One specialist calls it “a geological heritage that deserves to be designated as a natural monument.”

After the Iwaki government chose to maintain a heavily damaged coastal levee with the help of state subsidies, local residents led the initiative to manage the fault.

Hoping to prevent memories of the disaster from being forgotten, residents plant gingko trees and build a stone monument by the fault on April 11 every year, in a slow but steady project that covers one site at a time.

A 2-meter-deep fault, part of the long stretch of rock strata displacement, can be seen on a land tract owned by Fujiyo Saito, 72.

She allows visitors unrestricted access to the site and provides a parking space. “I’m delighted just by visitors coming,” said Saito, who serves tea to such guests.

It is uncertain, however, how long the fault management project can be maintained. The district has a population of only 1,500, with people aged 65 or older accounting for 45 percent of the total.

In the Hisanohama district of Iwaki, residents are working together to preserve the only local Shinto shrine that survived the tsunami.

Through negotiations, they persuaded the local government to drop plans to relocate the shrine. Also, volunteers pay for the repairs of damage to the shrine and tree planting on its premises.Speech

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