APRU Multi-Hazards Summer School Day 4: Disaster Memorial Museums and Disaster Heritage Sites and how they shape Disaster Memory

The Japanese have a concept known as Disaster Memory, which delves into a community’s collective experiences during a disaster, compiling and preserving them as cultural memory. It serves as a means for survivors to honor the lives that have been lost as well as to share and pass on valuable information and insights.

This concept was introduced at the beginning of the summer school and was continuously fleshed out in discussion, directly and indirectly, throughout the seminar. Its embodiment and practice were demonstrated in full on the fourth and final day of the APRU Multi-hazard summer school when the participants visited disaster memorial sites in Higashi Matsushima City and Ishinomaki City. These cities are part of the Tohoku Region, which was struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake, one of the most powerful earthquakes in the country’s recorded history on March 11, 2011. This seismic event triggered a tsunami and a subsequent nuclear plant meltdown, leading to cascading disasters that devastated coastal cities.

Participants at the Higashi-Matsushima Disaster Recovery Memorial Museum

The first site visited was the Higashi-Matsushima Disaster Recovery Memorial Museum, housed in the former Nobiru Station Building, partially left standing by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The museum tour guides are locals who have survived the disaster. They shared firsthand accounts of how they took shelter and how the water entered the building as the tsunami hit. Amidst tales of devastation, they also conveyed stories of recovery, notably the meticulous sorting of tsunami debris, a two-year endeavor by community volunteers that preserved personal treasures and became an inspiring symbol of resilience.

Displacement along the train tracks in the former Nobiru Station caused by the earthquake.

Lunch took place at Matsushima Kaigan, an area once wiped out by the tsunami but now a vibrant area lined with family restaurants and local shops. Afterwards, the participants visited the Kadonowaki Elementary School Ruins in Ishinomaki City.

Ms. Daffodil Cleto, Ms. Monica May Mendoza, and Ms. Lea Victoria Serrano, exploring the Kadonowaki Elementary School with fellow participants.

In contrast to the Higashi-Matsushima Disaster Recovery Memorial Museum, which was established in the renovated Nobiru Station Building, parts of the Kadonowaki Elementary School were intentionally left in the post-disaster state to serve as a poignant reminder of the tsunami’s profound impact on the city.

An additional stop allowed participants to visit a memorial established by a local figure–a storehouse, the only structure in their extensive family estate that was left standing after the tsunami. As opposed to the government-established sites the participants saw prior, the storehouse was a local initiative, and as such, community members associate a more personal attachment to the site, which has also become part of their community identity.

The memorial heritage storehouse in Kadonowakicho, Ishinomaki City.

Reflecting on Japan’s experiences, the Philippines has experienced a number of record-breaking disasters as well. Through learning exchange programs such as the APRU Multi-hazards Summer School, researchers from the UP Resilience Institute (UPRI) were able to see multiple facets and perspectives of climate and disaster from a national standpoint to the community level. Many of these learnings can be replicated and contextualized in their resilience-building work in the Philippines. It aligns directly with the multidisciplinary approach of the UPRI, which explores not only the physical properties of disaster but also its societal and cultural impacts. By comprehensively examining climate and disaster in this manner, sustainability and resilience practices are developed more holistically in the country.



This news article is part of the APRU Multi-Hazards Summer School Series.

View the other articles below:

APRU Multi-Hazards Summer School Day 1: Lessons Learned from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

APRU Multi-Hazards Summer School Day 2: Role of different stakeholders: Local government, NGO, and Volunteers

APRU Multi-Hazards Summer School Day 3: Earthquake Research and Resilience Building


Posted by the UP Resilience Institute Education on January 8, 2024.