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Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012

Grandma's pictures tell story of tsunami readiness


SENDAI — Yoshi Tabata, 87, can vividly recall growing up in a small coastal community in the northeast, and her grandfather's constant advice that she should seek higher ground if an earthquake ever triggered massive tsunami.

News photo
Message in a story: Yoshi Tabata holds a picture aimed at teaching children tsunami preparedness on Oct. 10 in Sendai. KYODO

When the magnitude 8.3 Showa Sanriku Earthquake struck on March 3, 1933, spawning tsunami that swept into her home in what is now Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Tabata, then 8, knew exactly what she was supposed to do and fled to the mountains.

"I was saved thanks to my grandfather's advice, and I feel it is vital to pass on my own experience to future generations," Tabata, who lost her mother in the 1933 disaster, said at a recent gathering of academics, experts and businessmen on disaster resilience.

The forum was held on the sidelines of the two-day Sendai Dialogue, a conference on disasters and development that ended Oct. 10. The event was hosted by Japan and the World Bank in Sendai, one of the communities in the Tohoku region worst-affected by last year's catastrophic quake and tsunami.

After Tabata's grandchildren moved back to the northeast's disaster-prone coastline about 30 years ago, she felt inspired to create a traditional Japanese "kamishibai" picture-story show titled "Obaachan no Kamishibai — Tsunami" ("Grandmother's Picture-Story Show — the Tsunami"), based on her personal experiences.

The kamishibai form of storytelling is often used by kindergarten and elementary school teachers to instruct students. Tabata drew the pictures and wrote the text of the story herself.

"My grandfather was one of those who survived tsunami triggered by the 1896 Meiji Sanriku Earthquake," she said. "He had told me about the horrors of tsunami and ways of responding to them — and that my life is mine to protect."

Having survived the gigantic waves that proceeded from the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11 last year, Tabata renewed her determination to educate younger generations in "tendenko" disaster preparedness, according to which everyone must seek to secure their own safety by fleeing to higher ground.

Emiko Takahashi, Tabata's 63-year-old daughter who accompanied her to the Sendai Dialogue, recounted being raised with similar advice.

"But with so much information to watch before we evacuate nowadays, such as what level of tsunami evacuation is required, I have lost touch with the sense of urgency I used to have," Takahashi said, noting that seawalls alone are insufficient to protect communities in Tohoku's coastal areas.

Since her home in Miyako was destroyed by the March 2011 tsunami, Tabata now lives in the city of Aomori with her son, but continues to perform her picture-story show for children in communities and during student trips. It has also been adopted by the Taro Daiichi Elementary School as part of its library activities.

Teruo Inoue, 83, has his own tale of putting hope in the hearts of children, in his case through music, and has set about restoring pianos damaged by last year's disasters.

The tsunami ruined Inoue's Sarukoya Music Store, a 90-year-old family business in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. He was in Tokyo when the waves rolled in from the Pacific on March 11, but when he finally returned to the store he found most of his musical instruments destroyed.

Inoue has sought the help of volunteers and a piano tuner to restore one of the 30 pianos he once had in the shop, turning the instrument into a local symbol of recovery and regeneration.

"There are challenges in restoring the piano, such as how to get rid of the salt" from seawater, Inoue said, vowing to devote himself to restoring the pianos, calling it now his "lifelong task."

"Through this piano, I want to display (a spirit) of resilience in the face of the tsunami, especially for the city's children."

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