SPECIAL vol.12 “Telling the World about 3.11” held in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture in February 2014.
by Voices from the Field Admin - Monday, 2 June 2014, 09:46 AM
As a member of the VfF (Voices from the Field), I attended the International Symposium on “Telling the World about 3.11” held in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture in February 2014.

As the title shows, this symposium was held so that different groups, which provide information in English about the reconstruction and the lives of victims after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, could gather and share their activities and challenges. The symposium was jointly hosted by Tohoku University and the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Disaster Reduction Institute, of which. Dr.Liz Maly, a member of the VfF, is a research staff member.  

A total of twelve groups participated in the symposium, including the local community radio station, volunteer English tour guides, university researchers, and translators, like us, the VfF. While their activities can all be described as, “disseminating information in English,” each group has a different perspective and style of communication. I listened to each presentation attentively.

The group of volunteer English tour guides in Sendai is made up of those who live in the area but experienced little direct damage from the disaster. They said the increasing number of foreign visitors to the disaster-struck areas made them learn more about the disaster in details.

The Voices from Tohoku, whose name resembles ours, is run by Dr. David Slater’s study group at Sophia University in Tokyo. They conduct meticulous interviews with the disaster victims and transmit them directly on the Internet through their website: http://tohokukaranokoe.org/  

In the latter part of the symposium, a panel discussion was held. One of the speakers has been engaged in an activity to pass on personal experiences and lessons from the Kobe Earthquake of 1995 through storytelling and oral history. From his experience, he said that when you engage in these kinds of documentation activities for a long time, you reach a turning point, and that it is important not only to focus on carrying on the past, but also to refresh the approach by incorporating new ideas and knowledge with the help of Japanese and foreign students.

As for our activity of the VfF, a question was asked, “Why has it been able to continue for such a long time?” I answered, “We each do what we can instead of trying to do everything.” I added that when one translator finds some parts difficult to translate, others will help out and give some suggestions and advice. Furthermore, when we encounter some words which are hard to translate, such as hinansho (evacuation shelter) or yorisoi (to be with/by someone to offer tacit support and comfort), we get together and discuss how to deal with such problems. These meetings provide us opportunities to learn many things. This part of my story greatly attracted students’ attention and empathy. 

Representatives of the Digital Archive of Japan's 2011 Disasters (JDAArchive: http://jdarchive.org/ja/home), a project of Harvard University’s Edwin Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, also took part in the symposium. They showed interest in the VfF’s activity because most of the articles their system automatically collects are only available in Japanese. They said that the VfF articles are valuable because they contain keywords in both Japanese and English. 

We closed the symposium and agreed that from now on it would be good for all the “Communicators of 3.11” around the world to network over the Internet. I also appreciated that I was able to make new connections with these other organizations and spread the wings of the VfF.
Reported by Yoko Matsuda, Assistant Professor, Kwansei Gakuin University