Blog Post

One Year After the Japan Earthquake: A Journey, Part V

The commitment, if not fervor, to save these three buildings blazes forth in the eyes and words of the representatives of the local community with whom we are meeting. They come from city hall, cultural offices and university history departments who are working to save these landmarks. They feel these buildings are Kesennuma’s iconic structures. What would be the point of rebuilding their community if you do not save this history?

At this point I am reminded of WMF’s work with the “Survivors’ Staircase” at Ground Zero. Long doomed to be destroyed, it was the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund that WMF established in partnership with other local and national preservation organizations that fought against all arguments of “practicality” to have the staircase moved to storage, repaired, and then moved back to be part of the new 911 Museum, as it could not be returned to its original location.

Listening to our friends from Kesennuma was a passionate reminder that the meaning a building holds for a community is what makes it a landmark for them and not just another piece of architecture.

Mitsuo remarked how different the mood of Kesennuma is today than it was last summer when he first visited after the earthquake. You can sense the commitment to rebuild everywhere, even if vast stretches of the city have been cleared and some big issues remain. So many of the local restaurants were displaced after March 11, but they got together and built a type of trailer park of temporary buildings to keep their businesses going. It reminded me of a pop-up urban food court that could be constructed on any empty city lot. This site was extremely well organized, with a map and directory of the site that now had over 20 restaurants and little, displaced businesses, such as a barber. We ate in the trailer of a restaurant run by one of the most famous fisherman in Kesennuma, Mr. Murakami (also an artist well know in the community, who draws water color paintings of Kesennuma), who serves the freshest daily catches. It was the freshest sushi ever, straight from the sea, for $10.00. On the wall they are selling “Kesennuma Reborn” t-shirts.

As we drove up the hill and out of Kesennuma back along the Golden Trail, I reflected on the sense of stewardship that our Kesennuma colleagues had for their own history and helping it to be reborn. Why willfully destroy something of meaning after it manages to survive such a catastrophic disaster. I felt resolved that we should at least give their three treasures a fighting chance by helping now to move and restore them for future restoration. To do otherwise would be to turn them into just more debris.