Remnants of the Past


The Historical Archive Museum of Tomioka in Fukushima preserves the lost treasures of the town in the aftermath of the 311 tragedy


Rhonita Patnaik

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Published: Mon 20 Dec 2021, 4:19 PM

The triple tragedy that happened in March 2011 is still afresh in the minds of the Japanese people. On that day, the towns of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi were struck by earthquake, tsumani and nuclear power plant disaster.

The very next day saw the evacuation of the people from these town, many of whom have never returned until today.

10 years on, it is the act of a single man who has ensured that the legacy of the town lives on. Takeshi Momma, Chief Curator, explains why retrieving the items are important for the generations to come.

“Being a student of history and a journalist by profession, my academic abilities helped showcase the mishap of the city and the aftermath of the incident that was faced by the people of the Tomioka. From 2011 to 2013, I was working as a news reporter, covering the city of Tomioka. It was then when I realised that there has been a miserable identity crisis of the evacuees of the most critical disaster. Despite the challenges, the people in Fukushima faced a lot of negativity from across Japan because of the nuclear plant benefits that they were getting.”

However, he added that a few years later, the evacuees who settled in different parts of Japan, themselves had a negative feeling about the hometown because they were being discriminated. As a pandemic historian, I wanted to address this issue of discrimination against people who were treated as a temporary enemy.”

Adding he said: “Sixty per cent of the people living in the Tomioka were dependent on nuclear power plants for their earnings. So, neglecting the power plant would be neglecting the lives of the people,” reckoned Momma.

Therefore, in 2014, Momma started collecting the historical documents, related to the existence of nuclear power plant in the Tomioka and established a team of two curators and 13 local government workers in the Municipal government. His efforts were to showcase the history of the place as well as how Fukushima was once a booming town and a major economic driver.

Since its opening a decade later in July, the museum has received a number of 10,000 people visiting the museum in 100 days. “We would have received more numbers but due to Covid-19 restrictions, there’s a decline in the number of the visitors.”

In a permanent exhibition room, about 430 items are exhibited related to the 311 disaster. These include a tsunami-wrecked police patrol car and a clock that stopped working at 2:46 pm when the earthquake hit. Also on show is a scale model of the town’s recreated disaster response headquarters, set up immediately after the earthquake. This and other exhibits show in an easy-to-understand manner Tomioka’s history from the town’s emergence as a community to the evacuation of all residents following the nuclear disaster.

Articulating the time involved in salvaging the items from the disastrous event, Momma revealed that the team is still actively engaged in rescuing the things from the 311 event. “In 2016, we came up with the idea of putting up the rescued items on display and till today have recovered 60,000 things from the event.”

Momma also comprehended the voices of thousands of natives of Tomioka, when he said how the locals helped his first display a success. “By 2014, we were only looking for the place to keep the rescued items. Until 2016, when our first display took place, the local residents came to us, telling us about the articles that they had preserved at their respective homes to be added for the display.”

The foundation of the museum, Momma said is the donation by the local residents, schools, police officers and municipal corporation officials.

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