Project area:Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture

Rias Ark Museum
Interview: Hiroyasu Yamauchiļ¼¸Rias Ark Museum of Art Head Curator

The History of Tsunami
Also Creates Local Culture
And A Responsibility Lies with those who Transmit Culture

For this area 3.11 was not something unimaginable

Kesennuma, a fishing town in the north of Miyagi Prefecture, suffered great destruction at the hands of the tsunami. Located 3km from Kesennuma harbour on the top of the hill overlooking Kensennuma City is Rias Ark Museum of Art. The effects of the tsunami did not reach here, but as a result of the earthquake the building was damaged. This is a public museum run by Kensennuma City and Minami Sanrikucho which principally exhibits contemporary art, while also housing a permanent collection on local history since its establishment in 1994, becoming firmly rooted in the local area as a "place of strengthening local culture" which goes beyond the usual definitions of an art museum.

It has also undertaken various cultural research into tsunami, approaching the history of tsunami as part of the local culture in its capacity as a specialist facility for cultural resources. Therefore for Hiroyasu Yamauchi the disaster of 3.11 was not something beyond imagination. On that day while he was sorting out art works on the ground floor, Yamauchi felt a quake unlike any other in his lifetime and immediately sensed "something terrible is coming".

"When I went outside there were already cars gathering in the car park evacuating from lower ground, and those gathered were talking of a "tsunami 6m high". Then several minutes later...I heard the yell "I can see the tsunami" and I quickly raced to the top of the roof, and as I looked upon the town I could see white smoke rising. Even looking from high above I could well sense the destruction that was hitting the town.
Yamauchi himself lost his house and while spending one month in the museum, he collected over 30,000 photos and 250 remnants of the tsunami in the continuation of a record of disaster. In 2006 Yamauchi organized an exhibition designed to introduce the Meiji-sanriku earthquake "Depiction of a Terrible Scene - The Reality of the Great Sanriku Wave as Seen through Drawings".

"There is a record that the Meiji-sanriku Tsunami reached Hokkaido's Erimomisaki in the north and Tomiokacho, Fukushima in the south with 22,000 victims. The centre of the earthquake was Kamaishioki, so Iwate and Miyagi were clearly very badly hit. The area where we live also suffered horrendous destruction with records still remaining. There is documentation that the place that we live now has suffered much damage in the past. I wanted everyone to know about this, so I organized the exhibition."

At the time he expected to be drowned in visitors but out of Kesennuma's population of 100,000, only 1,200 people came. And out of the schools in the area it was only the one school closest to the museum which organized a tour for its pupils.

"It really was a shock. I really wondered why aren't they interested? Why aren't they worried? After receiving this reaction I was determined that even once this exhibition had finished the work being undertaken here had to carry on."

Two years later, Yamauchi published a book "Sandcastle" based on the records of the Meiji-sanriku tsunami. Within this book was included the following: "Forget what must be forgotten, but what must be told must be told at all costs. If we do not have that strength then we can not build the future. This is our task, no, this is the work for all human life. Passing on culture is the same as connecting to life."

"Up until the disaster of 2011, there wasn't anything which I tried with all my might to do. For me I have come to think this is my fate. In my case this disaster is, rather than a catastrophe, more of something of great cultural significance, and marks a cultural turning point. If we do not take the right steps forward from here then I think that will be the end of this country. For example in the case of war we have the phrases pre-war and post-war, but from now we will come to use the terms pre-quake and post-quake. And those of us who are faced with this must take responsibility".

Rias Ark Museum of Art
The Axis of Community Regeneration

The Rias Ark Museum of Art is now an invaluable presence for the local area. "What is really needed for regeneration are those key cultural resources which form some kind of axis for the community, and if these are lost then recovery and regeneration can not be achieved. And it is amongst this that many have said to us, "we want the museum to become a central point which can not be lost". This has become an important lifeline for us; An art museum which opened 18 years ago has come to make something which can be hung on to in times of emergency. And it is a really great thing that in times of emergency it is the art museum which local people come to cling to".

Now the museum is developing a permanent exhibition under the title "Records of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the history of Tsunami disaster" (planned to open in April 2013). This will include reflection on "what we should have done" and "what we didn't do", providing a permanent space in the museum to think about the area one lives and how to link this to the future.

From the exhibition "Depiction of a Terrible Scene - The Reality of the Great Sanriku Wave as Seen through Drawings"
The Meiji Sanriku Tsunami of 1896 resulted, according to official announcements of the weather forecast, the deaths of 27,122 people. In order to visualize this loss of life the bodies of 27,211 paper dolls were made and exhibited across the space.

(Interview: 22nd July 2012 Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture)





988-0171 Miyagi prefecture, Kensennuma city Akaiwamakisawa 138-5

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