3.11 - Remembering the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (Part 2)

On the afternoon of March 11,
2011, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake struck the Pacific coast of northeastern
Japan, triggering a tsunami that devastated many coastal communities in the
region. Miyagi Prefecture suffered, by far, the greatest loss of life and
damage. This presentation, created by retired architect Mr. Alan Butler,
focuses on the city of Ishinomaki and nearby areas in Miyagi Prefecture. 

Nakaze Island, Kyukitakami River (2018)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

What Happened on Nakaze Island on March 11, 2011? (Part 1)
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"It started to snow. Looking across the river at the opposite shore, I could tell that the water level was plummeting. I vaguely thought that a tsunami was about to come. I had heard that people had seen the bottom of the Kyukitakami River before the tsunami that arrived as a result of the Great Chilean Earthquake in 1960.

The water level had not fallen to the point where the riverbed was visible so I thought it would still be a while. In the meeting area located on the first floor of the museum, I sat down to take a little breather, when suddenly the river water flowed backwards before my eyes, accompanied with what sounded like a heavy rain. Confused by the gap between what I had heard before about a tsunami attack and the reality of it, I rushed up the ramp inside the museum.

As I looked back down on the first floor, I saw the lockers and information boards-set right outside the museum’s front entrance- breaking through the glass and flowing into the building..."

Sketch of Manga Museum, Nakaze Island (2019) by Alan ButlerEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

What Happened on Nakaze Island on March 11, 2011? (Part 2)
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"In a instant the sea rushed in and all sorts of things were being washed away. The tsunami now came rushing up the ramp. I am the only one in the museum. No one will come to my rescue. Sensing danger, a chill ran up my spine and I made a dash for the third floor.

Looking out east toward the Minato district from the window in the library section, I could see the tsunami increasing in force and attacking the town. The water was gradually turning to a dark black, and accompanied with what smelled like heavy oil, it was increasing its speed.

Over the Kyukitakami River, cars had been left stranded on the Utsumi Bridge because of the traffic jam. Those that were stuck on the east side of the bridge were mercilessly washed away. Houses and apartments near the museum were producing cracking sounds as they got torn apart, starting with those at the mouth of the river and spreading upstream."

-from Surviving the 2011 Tsunami, by the Editorial Offices of the Ishinomaki Kahoku

Ishinomaki mapEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

The Kyukitakami River and Ishinomaki Today

By 2019 new levees had been constructed upriver more than three miles. New emergency staircases allow pedestrians to get to higher ground in the event of inundation. The new automobile bridge immediately upriver from the existing Utsumi Bridge to Nakase Island will provide more clearance from 6-meter tsunami waves that struck in 2011. 

Current Conditions, Kyukitakami River Banks (2019)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

By 2019 new levees had been constructed upriver more than three miles.

Current Conditions, Kyukitakami River Banks (2019)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

By 2019 new levees had been constructed upriver more than three miles.

Current Conditions, Kyukitakami River Banks (2019)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

New emergency staircases allow pedestrians to get to higher ground in the event of inundation.

Current Conditions, Kyukitakami River Banks (2019)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

The new automobile bridge immediately upriver from the existing Utsumi Bridge to Nakase Island will provide more clearance from 6-meter tsunami waves that struck in 2011.

Temple on Kitakami Gawa (1951)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

The bell tower and ancient cypress along the Kyukitakami River in Sumiyoshi Park were ravaged by the 2011 tsunami.

Two men in fishing boat on river, and man standing under tree on shore (1951)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

The bell tower and ancient cypress along the Kyukitakami River in Sumiyoshi Park were ravaged by the 2011 tsunami.

Oshima Shrine Bell, waiting to be moved (2019)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

In fall of 2019 a new levee and berm, perhaps 10m above the river, was being constructed for the structure housing the great bronze bell. Beyond the construction of the new raised automobile bridge just beyond Nakase Island can be seen.

Tsunami ravaged tree , Oshima Shrine (2019)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

In fall of 2019 a new levee and berm, perhaps 10m above the river, was being constructed for the structure housing the great bronze bell. Beyond the construction of the new raised automobile bridge just beyond Nakase Island can be seen.

Ishinomaki waterfrontEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

Omigarihama and the Ishinomaki Ocean Front

A significant portion of the Ishinomaki ocean front was largely undeveloped in 1951 and later became the industrial port for Ishinomaki. This area was near Camp Matsushima, now the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) Base. I have many photographs of GIs and young boys playing along this largely undeveloped waterfront. Subsequent industrial and residential development in the area was largely destroyed in 2011. Some of the area is to become parkland and with protection some redevelopment of former uses. 

Woman carrying load, coming from the bay (1951)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

The Omigari Beach (Hama) area was just outside Camp Matsushima. In 1951 it was rice fields or undeveloped ocean frontage as much of the low flat lands in the area were at that time.

American soldiers and children on beach (1951)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

The Omigari Beach (Hama) area was just outside Camp Matsushima. In 1951 it was rice fields or undeveloped ocean frontage as much of the low flat lands in the area were at that time.

People and boats along shore (1951) by George ButlerEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

The Omigari Beach (Hama) area was just outside Camp Matsushima. In 1951 it was rice fields or undeveloped ocean frontage as much of the low flat lands in the area were at that time.

Children standing on beach (1951) by George ButlerEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

My father encountered these boys many times in his walks.

Group of children (1951)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

This group of children were at a small store just outside the base, in land that is now part of the JASDF base. The older boy embracing his brother told him about the exhibit in Sendai in 2018 and he traveled from Tokyo to see it. This kind of story, which seems to occur as new articles are published in the Ishinomaki Kahoku, make the whole venture worthwhile for so many who have lost family archives and memorabilia.

Boats along shore (1951)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

The Oshika Peninsula stretches more than ten miles south and west of Ishinomaki. Though technically part of the city, each village on the peninsula has had their say on how they would prepare for a possible future tsunami. There are numerous fishing villages like Tsukinoura and Kobuchi Harbor along the west side of the peninsula. All were inundated in 2011 and devastated. For centuries the fisherman and their families lived right on the water and their relationship with the sea very close.

Fishing Village (1951) by George ButlerEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

Here is a view of Kobuchi Harbor taken in 1951.

Kobuchi Harbor Wall Construction (2019)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

Here, Kobuchi Harbor is pictured when I visited in 2019. In October of 2019 we saw the construction of new sea walls and gates that appeared to be about 5 meters tall. Behind the walls were some commercial fisheries businesses and residences. Many residences were relocated further up hill.

Fishing boats in harbor (1951)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

We dropped off photographs of the fisherman in the photo, taken in 1951, to a relative living in a new modular housing unit well above the harbor. After centuries of such a close connection to the sea, it is difficult to image how living behind the wall will be.

Article about Toshio Murata (2018) by Kahoku Shimpo NewspaperEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

In 2018 we met 91-year-old Toshio Murata. My father had photographed him in the summer of 1951 when he was twenty-five years old. He continued to actively fish until he was eighty years old. Mr. Murata survived because his home was up the hillside, out of the reach of the inundation.

Fisherman (1951) by George ButlerEdwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

In 2018 we met 91-year-old Toshio Murata. My father had photographed him in the summer of 1951 when he was twenty-five years old. He continued to actively fish until he was eighty years old. Mr. Murata survived because his home was up the hillside, out of the reach of the inundation.

Tsukinoura Harbor after repairs (2018)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

The fishing village of Tsukinoura decided that all residents would be moved uphill, beyond the reach of a future tsunami. While still under development after the tsunami, as are many areas even ten years later, the connection with the sea has not been lost.

Fisherman and boat (1951)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

Contributors

In creating this presentation, Alan Butler drew on photographs he took during visits to the region in 2018-2019 as well as a series of articles written by Ishinomaki historian Seiji Henmi and archival images taken by Alan’s father, Dr. George Butler, an American medical doctor stationed in the region in 1951. Alan donated a collection of his father’s photographs to Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology in 2017.

Alan Butler portrait at architectural office (2018)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

Alan Butler

Alan was two years old when his father left California to serve in the US Army in Japan. He grew up influenced by his father’s interest in Japan. Alan was a practicing architect and later partner in a Northern California firm for more than 30 years, during which time he traveled widely and sketched wherever he could.
In 2014 he discovered the archive of his father’s photographs, developed a website, and later traveled to Japan in 2018-2019 for a series of exhibits. Sharing the photographs with the people of Miyagi Prefecture, many of whom had lost all family records in the Great East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami of 2011, has been immensely rewarding.

Seiji Henmi on Hiyoriama Hill overlooking Ishinomaki (2019)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

Seiji Henmi

Beginning in 2018 the Ishinomaki Kahoku newspaper has published a weekly series of articles by local historian Seiji Henmi. Each of the nearly 150 articles published as of early 2021 describes a photograph taken in 1951 by George Butler.

The articles provide a wealth of information and commentary about post-war Japan in the Tohoku region. A local organization, The Ishinomaki Archive, in which Mr. Henmi has had a key role, has done much to document the history of the Ishinomaki area. It has published historical maps and held at least four exhibitions of George Butler’s photographs in the region.

George Butler in Yamoto (1951)Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

George A. Butler, MD (1911-1974)

From March of 1951 to early 1952, Captain George Butler was stationed at Camp Matsushima, Japan. This is now the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF), Matsushima base in the the city of Higashimatsushima. The forty-year-old doctor, who had spent WW II in medical school with the Army, was called up to serve in the Korean War. As Battalion Surgeon he was responsible for personnel on the base and public health in areas nearby the base. He spent most of his free time exploring the areas between Ishinomaki and Sendai, taking several thousand color photographs of great artistic and technical quality, rare at this time in Japan. These photographs are now preserved in the archives of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University and are online at www.miyagi1951.com.

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