On March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan. In one of the hardest hit areas, along the coast, was a town of approximately 23,000 people called Rikuzentakata. News reports immediately after the disaster described the town as “flattened” and “wiped off the map.” When the waters receded and the damage assessed, it was discovered that 80 percent of homes had been washed away and more than 1,500 people lost their lives.

Among the losses was the Rikenzentakata City Museum. More than half of the museum’s curators lost their lives and the building and collection suffered severe damage. Some of the museum’s natural history and anthropological artifacts were recovered by curators from around Iwate Prefecture, and cleaning of the natural history artifacts is underway at the Iwate Prefectural Museum. But because the restoration of photographs and documents require special knowledge, a volunteer group of experts was assembled. They established the Rikuzentakata Disaster Document Digitalization Project. Volunteers are now at work removing moisture and sand from photographs, and trying to separate dry-plates without further damaging the fragile emulsion. The more time passes, the less likely it is that these important historical images can be saved, so the volunteers are trying to get through the huge volume of seriously damaged images as quickly as possible. The next step will be to digitalize the images. The entire effort is being done by volunteers, so the support of individuals, corporations and organizations is desperately needed.

Volunteers at work restoring and digitalizing damaged photographs

This project has Supported by CIPA Photo-Aid.