Godzilla Tsunamis

While doing some research tonight on the history of Ishinomaki, I found a heart-wrenching blog by a Japanese professional photographer whose parents had lived in Onagawa when the tsunami came.  Their bodies were never found.  She and her sister finally had their funeral in September, sans bodies.  Her father and her grandfather had been photographers, as well.  Her blog is brave and beautiful as she writes (in English, though she is Japanese), of the process of grief.  She took photos of her childhood city in the weeks and months following the tsunami to help raise money to reconstruct Onagawa.

I am going to contact her and let her know how much her blog touched me.  Perhaps I will have a chance to meet her and see more of her work when we are living in Ishinomaki…

One of her blog posts was about a book that she read since the tsunami (in Japanese) that detailed the history of three other tsunamis to the region in the past one hundred years.  I learned a lot just reading this summary:

June 8, 2011
I recently read a book titled “The Great Sanriku Coastal Tsunamis” by Akira Yoshimura.  It was originally published in 1945 and has been reprinted several times since then.  The book describes in great detail the 1896 tsunami, the 1933 tsunami, and the 1960 tsunami caused by an earthquake in Chile. It contains eye-witness accounts by two survivors of the 1896 tsunami who must have been very old at the time of the interview for the book. The section of the book dealing with the 1933 tsunami includes essays by elementary school children describing the details of the tsunami, and how residents escaped (or failed to escape). 
If I had known about the book and had read it, I could have saved my parents…
Since I was a child I have heard a lot about the tsunami. As both of my paternal grandparents were dead, I didn’t have a chance to hear directly from them, but my father and his friends used to talk about “the great tsunami” often.  The tsunami they were talking about was the 1960 Chile tsunami.   
“The water receded to a far distance so that the bottom of the bay became visible. Fishes were jumping and some who went after them washed away and others got back alive. ” “I was up on the electric pole watching.”  “The first floor of the photo studio was under the water, but the second floor was alright. Oh, how I hated to throw away the tatami floor mats.” “It was a kind of fun to cook communal meals outdoor with neighbors.”  “People on the hills came down and helped us.” His stories sounded “not so serious” in comparison with the recent great earthquake and tsunami. There were even elements of humor in their stories that as a child I enjoyed hearing about the tsunami from adult men in my neighborhood.   
Now that I have read this book, I have come to realize why my parents could not escape from the tsunami.  The tsunami in my father’s memory was an “easygoing monkey tsunami” of 1960. He didn’t know the “Godzilla tsunamis” of 1896 and 1933! 

The tsunami he experienced at the age of 22 was only the Chile tsunami. He could have possibly heard about the earlier great tsunamis; but such information is totally useless if it does not lead to risk management.  For my mother, she was a native of Akita where there is no tsunami. The only tsunami she experienced was the one caused by the Chile earthquake in March, 2010 (only 0.5 meter high in Onagawa).  This one was another “easygoing” type; it came slowly taking 24 hours to reach Onagawa from the other side of the earth. At that time the relatives came and helped my parents move everything from the first floor to the second floor and to the studio which took a half day, thus avoiding any flood damage.  

But not this time!  They never thought they would be swept up in only 20 minutes after the big earthquake.  As the book describes, it must have been like a massive Godzilla suddenly appeared and began attacking.
I cannot help but feeling remorse.   If they had known the Godzilla size tsunamis, they could have taken proper actions for escape.  I now know how important it is to learn various types of tsunamis.  Such knowledge will lead to good disaster control. 
I never was worried about the tsunami during the 18 years I lived in Onagawa. Of course every Onagawan knew that the Sanriku coast was exposed to the danger of tsunami. But very few, if any, knew “how and when it would come.” Even I wouldn’t know “how quickly it may come and how to escape from it.”  Reading this book makes me think that we could have foreseen and prepare for the recent gigantic one if we had known about those great tsunamis of the past. 

I think this book should be read by everyone who lives along the Sanriku. It is easy enough for any middle school student to read. This book is packed with more valuable information than any other books on tsunami. “History repeats itself.” “Natural disaster repeats itself, too.” (Though I don’t want to think about it now…)


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