Blog Post

Seven Years On, Looking Back, and Japan Disasters Digital Archive

header image from website: Looking Back: This Past Year After the Quake

Another year passes and brings us further on from the tragedies of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. I was safely at work in the suburbs of Tokyo that day, but had visited Tōhoku many times and have friends there. This year the anniversary crept up on me. How did I let this pass from my mind? And, I found myself online trying to get back to the feelings in the immediate aftermath and in the years soon after the quake. Work that many people had put into documenting one small piece of the aftermath and archiving it digitally helped.

Many members of the Japan Association for Language Teaching Learner Devlopment Special Interest Group started a Tohoku Outreach Project.

[I]n March 2013 a group of 10 LD SIG members visited Kesennuma, Oshima, and Rikuzentakata in the Tohoku region to hear firsthand from community members and to seek ways to make a longer commitment to supporting the people of Tohoku as they rebuilt their communities.

I was able to join the project and participate later. We began the "‘Children’s Accounts Translation’ project. In December 2013, [when] the SIG was given a copy of Looking Back: This Past Year After the Earthquake –- a collection of 93 reflections written in Japanese by the students at Kesen Junior High School in Iwate." More than 80 of us--teachers and students--worked to translate the narratives of the students from Japanese to English. For me this meant working digitally with a group of volunteer students in medical and nursing school. We were distributed all over the world on break collaborating with Dropbox, Drive, and email and making discoveries as we did so. I wrote about one example [PDF]:

One account included the following passage:
朝になり唯一の食べ物だったものが津波で流されてきたさんま
で、僕はそんなことを気にせず、どんどん食べていきました。
Asa ni nari yuiitsu no tabemonodatta mono ga tsunami de nagasa
rete kita sanma de, boku wa son’na koto o ki ni sezu, dondon
tabete ikimashita.
A member of my group translated this as “In the morning, all we
had to eat was the sanma left behind by the disaster and I ate a lot
of them. I did not care [about] the fact that I was eating sanma from
the tsunami.”
The lexis and grammar of the Japanese text were not hard, but in
checking the translation, both of us were perplexed. The student translator
wrote, “Actually, I am confused too. Here Japanese
sentences said that ‘the tsunami brought the sanma,’ if we catch the
meanings naturally. It does not make sense for me . . . . But, also we
have to make sure that the earthquake was so ‘special’ that we cannot
imagine what happened. I mean it could had happened . . .”
In order to make sense of this, I took the problem to the team discussion
board where Sayuri explained how the tsunami had flooded
a fish processing plant and spread hundreds of tons of sanma up the
hillsides. I brought this back to my group and we looked for more
information and images of this. This one sentence in Japanese was
the seed for greater discussion in English and a way in to learning
more deeply about the events in the accounts we were translating.

All of the translations are available in parallel at Looking Back: This Past Year after the Earthquake 震災のあったこの一年を振りかえって」, but more important, and more relevant to the interests of HASTAC, is that we added this project to the open Harvard Japan Disasters Digital Archive, where it should continue to reside and be discoverable in the future even if bit-rot takes down our own small project page. I am thankful that Harvard has provided this archiving tool, and by revisiting the project there, I found myself reconnected to Rikuzentakata through new, continuing additions such as this story of survivors from the nearby Otomo Junior High School and their Coming of Age ceremony.

About JDDA from their website: Launched in July of 2012, the Japan Disasters Digital Archive (JDA) is an advanced search engine for materials from around the globe, building digital repositories about the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. With the support of metaLAB and Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard, the project seeks to collect, preserve, and make broadly accessible many forms of first-hand information and primary documentation of the events of March 11, 2011 and their aftermath. Through the archive, the project aims to provide a public space of information exchange, establish innovative means of organization, access, and integration of materials, and to contribute to teaching, research, and policy analysis both near term and in the future. But most of all, JDA hopes that the archive will serve as a site of shared memories and reflection for those most affected by these events and concerned about their consequences. 

The connections that a digital archive like this can make across time, space, disciplines, languages, and people are powerful. A visit to the site to see all that has been happening is a good thing to do in remembrance on March 11 or on any day.

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