The Preservation Activity for the Nagano Hokubu Earthquake I

Preserving the community?s historical materials

Published on 24 May 2011

Author(s): Network for Historical Materials/Satoshi Shirouze

Type:  Blog/Situation report Part 1


At 3:59am on March 12th, the Mg.6.7 earthquake whose seismic centre was in the northern area of Nagano Prefecture occurred. Afterwards, huge aftershocks occurred one after another in a short time, so grave damage was brought about. Previously on March 11th, the East Japan Earthquake happened in the Tohoku area, therefore the media had been concentrating on broadcasting about that because the damage by the quake and the Tsunami was extremely terrible and the following grave accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant had resulted in a tense situation until today. As a result, the disaster at Sakaemura (栄村) was completely ignored by the media.

Sakaemura is widely spread out in the northern area of Nagano Prefecture, bordered by Niigata Prefecture, and including the area of ‘Akiyamagou(秋山郷)’ known as a tourist resort in an unexplored region. Throughout the year visitors can enjoy the rich environment of the season and the village preserves their traditional lifestyles, so it was chosen as one of the villages of the Japan100 by the Asahishinbun (one of the most popular newspaper in Japan).

I happened to be interested in the history of Sakaemura, although my main interest is in Akiyamago. For this reason, I had often visited and investigated there since the autumn of 1999. Since 2006, as a part of the project by the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, I held a briefing session for the local people once a year, and held a lecture for reading old archives in the local village mediated by Mr.Makoto Matsuo of Kyoto Seika University.

After that, the relationship between Sakaemura and I had gradually deepened. As yet, in Sakaemura, there is no institution to preserve cultural heritage yet. So in such a disaster, I tried to carry out the preservation activities so as to avoid scrapping and losing the community’s historical materials. This report records our activity in detail.

1. Basic Information of the activity

Duration: 4 days from April 29th to May 2nd of 2011

Participants: Satoshi Shirouze, Tsutomu Suzuki, Takayuki Sugitani, Fumitoshi Hoshina, Keita Shibazaki, Tsuneaki Aragaki, Hiroaki Yamagami(the co-operator in the field).


April 29th: Confirming present condition of the ‘H’ family’s whitewashed warehouse, securing its entrance, and operation for reinforcing its structure.

April 30th: Tidying up the properties in the ‘H’ family’s warehouse and confirming their collection

May 1st: Investigating the historical materials in the damaged warehouse of the ‘MM’ family and ‘MT’ family in the Nodazawa area.

May 2nd: Investigationg historical materials in the damaged warehouse of the ‘S’ family and getting the informal consent about their later inspection in Tsukioka.

2. The extent of damage in Sakaemura

A part of Sakaemura was intensively affected by the earthquake. Above all, the areas of Mori, Aokura, Yokokura, Otaki, Nodazawa were the most seriously damaged. On the other hand, the area of Akiyama escaped relatively lightly. Fortunately no one was killed, however unbelievable damage was found in buildings, along roads and in farmlands. In the seriously damaged areas, there were a lot of razed and partially destroyed houses, and all public institutions such as community centres which can be said to be the core of community were also damaged. Although 2 months has passed, some people are still taking shelter and the temporary housing is at last available to live in although there is still a long way to go to reconstruct their lives.

The razed house in Aokura area.jpg
The razed house in Aokura area

In such a situation, the whitewashed warehouses were also damaged in each area. The ancestral traditional utensils and old archives were preserved in the warehouses, nevertheless, those materials which had been already become redundant in our present lifestyle were expected to be scrapped along with the demolition of the warehouses. We have already received some information that old archives and traditional materials were partially thrown away as rubbish when they cleaned up after the quake.

3. The Rescue Tools and Preparing the Materials

This time’s inspection was different from the usual one, we prepared for the materials which were to be rescued. However, this was the first experience for us to do such an activity, our attempt was still in its beginning stages.

The razed house in Yokokura area.jpg
The razed house in Yokokura area

The cameras and tripods for taking photos of the historical materials were prepared as normal, taking into consideration the operation in the warehouse would happen without light. We prepared the kit of batteries, inverter and lights, and the solar panel for charging, beyond those, we brought the cleaning equipment and carpenter’s tools for the urgent measures on the damaged structures.

The community center of Aokura area was completely destroyed.jpg
The community center of Aokura area was completely destroyed

As for clothing, we arranged for work groves, working clothes, masks, helmets to protect against aftershocks, and the safety shoes. I could prepare those tools as my own belongings, so I asked participants to bring their own work gloves and headlights. In addition, we asked the local board of education to prepare enough helmets for all members and the name plates as the ID cards which were printed saying ‘the investigator for cultural property, the Sakaemura board of education’ which indicated that we were cooperating with the Board. Consequently, those materials proved to be very helpful. (to be continued)

NB: The photos are all from the Report of the Preservation Activity for Nagano Hokubu Earthquake by Mr.Shirouze.

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