This page is adapted from the original transcript of NHK’s TOMORROW, broadcast on September 7, 2015
It is now four and a half years since the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the Tohoku region. In Fukushima Prefecture, people are sharing their memories of the disaster through a traditional Japanese form of entertainment.
It is called “kami shibai,” or picture-story show.
Each picture-story records the actual experiences of those affected by the disaster, such as evacuation caused by the nuclear plant accident and saving lives in the face of the tsunami.
“Just this one minibus? That’s nowhere near enough. 300 people are waiting to evacuate. Please find buses for us all!”
So far, 37 picture-stories depicting the disaster have been created, and they are being shown mainly in the affected areas.
Today’s reporter is American Jason Hancock.
“They say that picture-story shows are a tradition that began right here in Japan. Now, four years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, those affected by the disaster are using picture-shows as a way to record and share their experiences. I’m looking forward to hearing their stories and seeing their picture-shows.”
(Jason Hancock: Reporter)
“The picture-story show will now start!”
This temporary housing complex in Iwaki, Fukushima, is home to 50 households.
One woman here wanted a picture-story made to relate her experience.
“Hello, I’m Jason, nice to meet you.”
This is Kuniko Tagoshimaya. She is currently living here with her husband.
Before the quake, they lived with their children and grandchildren, a family of seven. However, after the disaster, the children and grandchildren were all evacuated to another prefecture, and the family was torn apart.
“How were things back then?”
“Back then? The house was full of life.”
The Tagoshimayas’ house is in the town of Okuma, where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is located. They now have to obtain permission to visit it.
Kuniko wanted a picture-story made to relate the experiences she went through working as a nurse during the disaster. She takes Jason to see where she was working at that time.
This is Onfūru Futaba, the intensive-care home for the elderly where Kuniko worked. Entry into this area is still restricted.
To this day, the radiation level remains high. We received special permission to film inside the premises.
After the 3.11 disaster, an evacuation order was issued for this area. However, the people inside this building were unable to leave, even after the explosion at the nuclear plant.
Around 300 people were crowded inside the building, including about 140 residents, the staff, and local people who had evacuated here. They had no means of transportation, no running water, and no electricity. The phone lines were cut and no relief supplies were being delivered.
“We were all anxious to evacuate. It was dark and very cold. There was not much to eat, and we needed more water as well.”
There were no doctors at the facility that day, only Kuniko and two other nurses. They continued to request transportation from the town office and other places, but the responses were not promising.
Around that time, in other areas surrounding the nuclear plant where evacuation orders had been issued, organized evacuations were underway. But the people at Onfūru Futaba remained isolated. No vehicles big enough to transport everyone arrived.
“We were afraid we would all be stuck here if no buses came for us. We were really scared, but I think what kept us going was the sense of responsibility we had for our residents.”
Why had they been left behind? Kuniko wanted to convey her anger and disconsolation through a picture-story.
“It’s been over four years. Why are you having a picture-story made now?”
“Well, I still have very strong feelings about that situation. At the same time, I was a little concerned about what people would say when they saw such a picture-story show. But in the end I decided to go ahead, because I felt that this story was important, and needed to be recorded. I think we should pass on to future generations a record that things like this happened, and what we had to go through in order to evacuate safely.”
In July(2015), Kuniko had several meetings with the volunteers who were creating her picture-story.
“Information was conflicting, and everyone was panicking.”
Since the disaster, Hidenobu Fukumoto has created many picture-stories depicting the experiences of people in Fukushima. But he actually comes from another part of Japan.
He is from Hiroshima, the city that was the victim of the world’s first atomic bomb 70 years ago.
Fukumoto still lives there, working as a city employee. He also heads a citizen’s group that is striving to preserve the city’s history using picture-stories.
During the past seven years, the group has created and shown many picture-stories depicting the after-effects of the atomic bombing.
‘Boom!’ went the bomb…And Hiroshima was steeped in countless tragedies.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the Tohoku region in 2011, Fukumoto took action.
Fukushima Prefecture had been devastated by both the massive tsunami and the nuclear accident.
Seeing the evacuation images, Fukumoto could really empathize with those whose lives had been turned upside down by radiation.
“It can be very difficult for people affected to talk openly to others about their worries regarding radiation. You may face unwarranted discrimination, or be told that you’ll pass on something to your children. Many people feel they can’t speak up, and that’s really tough for them. I think it was easier for them to open up to us because we are from Hiroshima.”
Fukumoto made countless trips to Fukushima as a volunteer after the disaster.
One day, he was approached with a request. He was asked to record people’s disaster experiences in the form of picture-stories.
Since then, he has interviewed many people and done extensive research in order to create picture-stories.
“I don’t assume I can convey everything through picture-stories, but I want to pass on these stories, so I shall continue creating them.”
“You know, this is just how I remember it.”
“Yes, it’s perfect.”
It is August(2015). Fukumoto recently completed the picture-story depicting Kuniko’s experience, and today she is presenting it before an audience for the first time.
“Thank you for coming. Now I’ll begin.”
Friends of Kuniko who were also evacuated from Okuma to Iwaki have come to see the premiere.
“It’s not coming, is it? I knew it, we’ve been abandoned!”
“Just this one minibus?”
“What do you mean ‘Yes’? It’s nowhere near enough. Isn’t there another one coming?”
“Not today, I don’t think.”
“What?! There are 300 staff, residents, and people from the neighborhood here. Please find buses for us all!”
Stocks of medicine and food were gradually depleting, and after the nearby nuclear plant explosion, everyone’s fear was palpable. Kuniko continued to comfort the panicking residents and staff members.
Why could not they evacuate? They asked this question again and again to the city office and other places. But large buses or helicopters never materialized. They decided to take drastic measures with members of the police and self-defense forces passing through the area.
“Wait, please wait, stop!”
“Please help us! We’ve contacted the city office, but it’s no use. They said they would dispatch buses our way but they still haven’t come.”
“Hey, wait! You’re going to abandon us? Have you no heart? There’re more than 200 people here! You’re going to just leave us all here? We’re taking you hostage. We’re not letting you leave until we get some buses!”
“Alright, I’ll stay. Let me instruct my subordinates.”
In the end, it took four days to arrange for everyone to be evacuated from Onfūru Futaba. The last to leave on March 15th were Kuniko, the other staff, and the residents. They were transported by police vehicles and minibuses.
“It was a horrific situation. But I am proud that every single one of the residents, almost 140 of them, were able to evacuate safely.”
“Was there anything that you heard for the first time today?”
“I had imagined it was just the residents and staff who were isolated there. She hadn’t told me the story in so much detail. A lot of it was new to me. It must have been tough.
Ever since the disaster, Kuniko has kept her anger and disconsolation bottled up, not even confiding in her closest friends. Why did she want to share her experience through a picture-story?
“We all forget, little by little. If memories gradually fade away, our story will be forgotten altogether. But there were so many people who worked hard at that time and persevered – not only me, but my colleagues, and other people. I thought for their sake and also for mine, we needed to have our story preserved as a picture-story.”
Some people request to have a picture-story made to record stories that are not their own.
Arata Owada is an announcer at the local radio station.
“Yes, nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you.”
While engaged in outside reporting, Owada heard the story of a certain young man and he asked Fukumoto to create a picture-story about him.
“I strongly believe that we adults have a responsibility to tell people about courageous actions of young people like Morito. Of course, this is the role of TV, radio, and newspapers. But in terms of recounting the disaster, picture-story shows presented to small groups of people also play an important role.”
This is the young man whose story Owada wanted made into a picture-story, Morito Kudo. He died in the tsunami at the age of 17.
During the 45 minutes between the time the earthquake occurred and when the tsunami struck, he saved the lives of five people.
Morito had attended a Fukushima prefectural high school.
It is August(2015), and Morito’s picture-story is going to be shown in one of the classrooms. 18 of Morito’s family members and friends have come to see the show. Some have traveled here for the occasion from outside the prefecture.
“Now I’ll begin the picture-story show.”
17-year-old Morito Kudo, a second year student at Iwaki Kaisei High School. That day was a school holiday, so Morito was at home.
As soon as the earthquake tremors subsided, Morito ran out of his house. He saw a first-year student from the same high school, and called out to her.
“A tsunami’s coming! You’d better get on the bus and leave right away!”
“A tsunami? You worry too much, there’s no tsunami coming.”
“I’m telling you, that earthquake was huge. A tsunami’s on its way. You gotta go! Listen to me! It doesn’t matter where, just go as high up as you can. Okay?”
The girl followed Morito’s urging and was able to escape the tsunami. But she was not the only one whose life he saved that day.
Satomi Koyama and Keiichi Suzuki work in nursing care in the area. They happened to be visiting a patient’s home near Morito’s when the earthquake struck.
“We’re not familiar with this area, so we don’t know where we should go.”
“Then let’s go up to the hotel. Please follow me!?”
On that day, Koyama and Suzuki met Morito when they came here, very close to the ocean.
“The three of us were carrying an elderly patient, and running this way and that. He was very heavy, and we really needed some help.”
(Keiichi Suzuki: Care worker)
Morito saw that they were struggling and approached them. He helped them by holding the stretcher and guided them towards higher ground, away from the ocean.
“Well, he just looked like a typical young guy. To tell you the truth, he didn’t appear at first glance to be the type who would help others out. That was how he looked, anyway. But in fact he was the only person that offered to lend us a hand. And we were so grateful for that.”
(Satomi Koyama: Nurse)
Thanks to Morito, the three nursing care workers and the elderly man on the stretcher were all able to reach higher ground and escape the tsunami.
Just when everyone felt safe and let out a big sigh of relief, Morito made a move that none of them expected.
“Ah, we’re safe! Hey, you! Where are you going?”
“I’m going over to my grandparents’ place.”
“No way! The tsunami will be here any minute. Stay here!”
“Don’t worry, I’m a fast runner. Besides, Grandma can’t walk well, so she can’t escape by herself. I’m the only one who can help her. Bye!”
“Hey, wait! Come back!”
“I knew that when a tsunami is coming you should never turn back. But he was so determined to save his grandparents. We just couldn’t stop him.”
Shortly after Morito left for the coast… the tsunami hit. Morito’s body was found the next day. His parents say that his face had a peaceful expression.
This young man who saved the lives of five people – what was he like?
These are Morito’s parents, Isao and Yayoi.
“This is the altar set up in Morito’s memory.”
(Yayoi Kudo: Morito’s mother)
Morito’s parents were at work that day, and they had no idea what had happened to him after the earthquake struck.
The tsunami also claimed the lives of Morito’s grandparents, who he had tried to save. Grandfather Toshiyuki was found two days later, and grandmother Etsuko after two weeks.
“What kind of boy was Morito?”
“Well, we’d never thought of him as a righteous kind of boy that would always rush to help someone.”
“To us, he pretended to be bad.”
(Isao Kudo: Morito’s father)
“He was always speaking rudely to us, but we’re told that outside the house he was always very polite. From a mother’s point of view, I’ve realized that I only saw one side of him while he was alive. After he died, we were told that he had a lot of friends, and younger students looked up to him. He was very different from the boy we thought he was.”
The picture-story goes on to relate what happened after Morito’s death. Two weeks after the earthquake, one person after another visited his house, looking for him.
“Is Morito home? Morito saved our lives that day. We were all able to return home safely. But none of us had asked Morito for his name, so we asked around based on his physique and what he was wearing. We also asked on a radio broadcast for information. Then we saw on the police homepage that there was a 17-year-old victim. We came here praying it was not the young man that
saved us, but…”
Next came a young woman who was a student at Morito’s high school. She told his parents what he was like at school.
Next, a fireman.
“We found this in the debris and wanted to give it to you.”
“A basic life-saving certificate? Morito took a life-saving course?”
One by one, people with a connection to Morito came. Each visitor revealed a side of Morito his parents had never known.
As a result of the disaster, a more complete picture of Morito emerged. It was an image even his parents were not familiar with.
“Here. This is the license which shows that Morito took a life-saving course.”
“So maybe because of this, he felt inclined to help?”
“I think he took the course in the first place because he was inclined to help people. I imagine he thought it would be good to know, just in case, and that’s why he took the course. And maybe it was in the back of his mind that day.”
Morito valued life, and he wanted to save the lives of others. We are all so proud of him.
“I just wish he was still alive, so that we could hang out together again.”
(Morito’s high school classmate)
“Morito was always joking around. But hearing his story in detail through the picture-story… (crying)”
(Morito’s middle school classmate)
“It brought back vivid memories of that day. And now I’m here, seeing a picture-story about him with his former classmates… I’m sorry, I… (crying)”
(Satomi Koyama: Nurse)
The picture-story shows weave together and preserve the memories of those affected in Fukushima. Fukumoto says he will continue to create them.
“Perhaps the important thing about Morito’s picture-show isn’t the fact that he helped people, but his family and friends were able to know and preserve his story. The personal stories of Morito or Ms. Tagoshimaya won’t be recorded in the history books, but because of these picture-story shows, they will continue to live on.”