Voices of Tohoku-visual community archive project

by IsraAID

"Voices of Tohoku" is a unique visual documentation project that builds community video archive composed from the "Life story interviews" of the survivors from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011. The team is composed of experts in oral history interviewing and documentation, who will commemorate and honor the memory of the Tohoku communities who went through an unprecedented natural disaster by recording their experiences, memories and hopes for the future.

Since we initatated the project, IsraAID and JISP teams have collected and processed about 300 interviews of disaster survivors and supporters in Miyagi prefecture. One website and two community arhicves were established in Watari and Ishinomaki, with visitors watching these interviews on a daily basis. Hundreds of volunteers received training in "Life Story" interview Dozens of interviews were transcribed and several were translated to English : research on Post Traumatic Growth has been conducted by using these important testimonies.

We hope that the affected communities that suffered from the events on March 2011 could move forward in their lives with a new sense of collective memory. The individuals participating in the project will have a gift to pass on to future generations. 

Finally, this project is not over : a startegic planning process will follow, in which different ways to further leverage the 300 interviews will be considered.

We wish to thank you for the kind support and generosity in making this project a reality.


A workshop for survivors in Ishinomaki : Receiving interviewees Feedback

Dear Donor, 

Thank you very much for your generous support to "Voices of Tohoku".

Voices of Tohoku provides a space to document and learn from disaster experience of earthquake and tsunami survivors. To date, more than 270 testimonies have been collected. Some of these testimonies are online :


In the past three months, VOT professional team trained 78 disaster supporters and Mental Health professionals in "Life Story" technique. A unique workshops was held in Ishinomaki : people that were intervieweed the the project in the past years were invited to give their feedback and reflect on their interview, and experience ever since. In the photo below one of the participants, Mr. Kikuta, together with Prof. Amia Leiblich, the mentor of the program.

A training was also held at Miyagi Women's University in Sendai. 60 Students learned and experienced active listening and interview technqiues.

Thank you for your support.

Looking forward to your feedback !

VOT team visits Honeywell Ibasho community center
VOT team visits Honeywell Ibasho community center

Dear Donor, 

Thank you very much for your generous support to "Voices of Tohoku".

Voices of Tohoku provides a space to document and learn from disaster experience of earthquake and tsunami survivors. To date, more than 270 testimonies have been collected. Some of these testimonies are online :


In the past three months, VOT team has editted 42 interviews, conducted 5 meetings with community representatives from Tagajo and Ofunato cities, and visited "Honeywell Ibasho House", where elderly people run a community center where all people can feel they belong.

The team has also finalized the next visit of the program's adviser, Prof. Amia Lieblich to Japan this autumn.
Prof. Lieblich will meet people interviewed for VOT in the past years, and hold workshops with community leaders and disaster supporters.

Looking forward to your feedback !

VOT team visits Honeywell Ibasho community center
VOT team visits Honeywell Ibasho community center
VOT team visits Honeywell Ibasho community center
VOT team visits Honeywell Ibasho community center


Dear Donor, 

Thank you very much for your generous support to "Voices of Tohoku".

Voices of Tohoku provides a space to document and learn from disaster experience of earthquake and tsunami survivors. To date, more than 270 testimonies have been collected. Some of these testimonies are online :


In the past three months, Voices of Tohoku (VOT) extended its outreach to local communities and academic world. In addition, a new project director was inaugurated. This report introduces the latest activities and the new VOT director,  Ko Sakai.

For May 2015 project report, please view the link attached here (PDF).

The next report will detail the exciting developments in the next stage of VOT : A community project.

We look forward to hear your feedback,

Best wishes,


Since October, we have collected 42 additional video interviews with respondents in Tohoku to be added to the previous archive of some 200 interviews. Our 3 base points are the towns of Ishinomaki, Kesennuma, and Shichigahama. Briefly, we will describe these community archives and the developments that we have made to the project. Before doing so, we would like to introduce you to some of our respondents.


Meet Mr. Imai

vlcsnap 2015 01 24 13h55m36s197

6 years ago Mr. Imai retired and returned to his hometown of Ishinomaki. He joined a local hiking club, and on March 11th, 2011 was on a trip to Kinkasan, a nearby island with a mountain overlooking the Oshika Peninsula. He had just descended back to the port and was waiting for the boat that would take his group back to the mainland when the earthquake struck. The water in the ocean receded, and Mr. Imai feared the worst. The hiking team quickly climbed back up the mountain for safety and witnessed the tsunami as it crashed into the island and mainland. His group was stuck on the island for a day, after which they finally made it back to the devastated town of Ayukawahama. He was stuck there for 3 days. Thanks to the assistance of a journalist with a contact to Tokyo, he was able to communicate with his son and later reunited with his wife. Luckily, Mr. Imai and his family survived. Today Mr. Imai continues to enjoy his retirement in Ishinomaki. We spent several hours interviewing Mr. Imai. He shared a great deal of information, not just about the disaster, but also about the history of Ishinomaki and his personal life. He remembers when Ishinomaki was a lively port town with horses transporting people through downtown. He hopes Ishinomaki will return to its former grace.


Meet Mr. Kisara

vlcsnap 2015 01 24 14h24m14s25

Mr. Kisara is a resident of temporary housing in Shichigahama. He lives alone, and he very much enjoys the company of friends. His hobby is fishing, and he tries to make friends with fishermen, but it is difficult. He used to live in Rifu, a nearby town, and had lots of friends there. In his first year in the temporary housing, he was able to make many new friends. The residents said hi to him, and he felt welcomed. After the first year he was moved to another temporary housing unit. There it was more difficult for him to make friends. He goes out a lot to the Ramen shop, Mumen, a popular hangout in the temporary shopping mall. Soon he will move into a redevelopment apartment. He is a bit worried about this, as he thinks there will only be old people there, and once again it will be difficult to make friends.  


Meet Mrs. Oikawa 

vlcsnap 2015 01 24 15h53m24s249

Mrs. Oikawa is an Ishinomaki local. At the age of 20 she left Ishinomaki, as she really wanted to live in Tokyo. Eventually she found a job with the Japanese Embassy, which brought her to Yugoslavia and Egypt. When her mother got sick many years ago, she returned from abroad to be with her family. Since then, she married and stayed in Ishinomaki. About 6 months ago, the elderly woman who ran the café she loved near her old junior high school was going to close the shop. She had never run a business or even made coffee before, but she decided to take over the café. Today she runs the Mimi no Ki Cafe, where besides just good coffee they have workshops and events. Once a month they have a musical event called Utagoekissa, where they play guitar and sing. Local artists also display crafts and pictures at the café. She hopes to bring in more young people to liven up the atmosphere.


Meet Mr. Sato 

vlcsnap 2015 01 24 14h47m06s205

Mr. Sato is a local resident of the town of Karakua, who runs a surf shop in Kesennuma. Mr. Sato’s surf shop used to be in another location, but it was washed away by the tsunami. His current shop is in a building that is designated for demolition in March, and he needs to find another location for his shop. For over 20 years Mr. Sato has been surfing the coast along Kesennuma. Since the tsunami, he started the Asuwa non-profit organization, which conducts events and workshops for children. He has two young daughters, who also take part in the events. This past summer Asuwa helped organize the SUP (stand up paddling) workshops at the “Love My Beach Island Festival” on the island of Oshima, off the coast of Kesennuma. Asuwa also conducts workshops to teach children about local history and traditions. Nature is very important to Mr. Sato. He helps the children make gardens and wants them to understand the food chain, how the forest and sea are connected. He worries very much about the construction of concrete levees along the coast, which are destroying the nature.


How to Conduct Life Story Interviews


(An interview with Mr. Suenara from the NPO Second Harvest in Ishinomaki)

As evidenced by these examples, Voices of Tohoku is not just about the 3/11 disaster. Rather, we are collecting life story interviews. This interview is for the respondents and their communities. This is not a movie. Our audience is the person being interviewed and his or her descendants. Respondents are encouraged to talk about what they want to talk about, and not to talk about what they do not want to talk about. If they want to discuss their life as a child, because that makes them feel good, then we will conduct the entire interview about their childhood. If they want to discuss just what they are doing today to support their community, then that is fine. We try not to bring up the disaster, unless they bring it up. All of the respondents do discuss the disaster in some way or another, but it is very important to remember that there is a great deal more to one’s life than the 3/11 disaster.


(An interview with Mr. Endo from the Pikari NPO in Ayukawahama)

These interviews take a very long time, usually between 2 to 3 hours of just filming. We do not rush our respondents. We do not force them to answer specific questions or follow a consistent flow of storytelling. Sometimes respondents will jump from the present to the past to the future and then back to the present. Often we find that it is very conducive to not pack up the camera right away. We keep talking with them after the interview is completed, and then as we are talking off-camera they start discussing many other things that they forgot to talk about. We then turn the camera back on and resume filming.


(An interview with Mrs. Sato, who manages the fish shop at the Shichi no Ichi temporary shopping center in Shichigahama)

So how did we find these people? The majority of our contacts were initially found by volunteering in everything from debris removal to child care. From there we network with our contacts, developing a sort of snowball sampling whereby one respondent introduces us to the next. We spend a lot of time hanging out in the temporary shopping malls, and attending workshops, festivals, and other events. We make friends with the people in the shops and restaurants, and we introduce them to our project.

Oshika no Rengai

(Locals hanging out at the Oshika no Rengai Temporary Shopping Mall in Ayukawahama)

Interviews are preceded by an introductory meeting and followed up with an off the camera meal or night out. Many locals in Tohoku feel abandoned. Volunteers come once. Perhaps they will return a year later, but these people want to see the same faces, the same friends on a routine basis. They don’t just want us to know about them, they also want to know about us. They want us to really care about them and follow up with that relationship. In summary, the people that we filmed did these interviews because they also got to know us.


(An interview with Mr. Ogura at the Kesennuma Reconstruction Association)

The interviews are not complete until we provide respondents with the final product, a copy of their interview on DVD and a photo book that documents their community. The process of editing, burning, backing up, uploading, and delivering take at least a month to complete. Delivery often takes just as long as the interview, as we feel the need to hand deliver and spend time with our former respondent. We have also been taking photographs with the goal of creating community books for Kesennuma and Tagajo (of which Shichigahama is to be included as a suburb). Many of our respondents provided us with pictures or want to provide us with pictures to be used in these books. We look forward to updating you about the continuation of the archive.  


Thank you for your assistance



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Organization Information


Location: Tel Aviv, Merkaz - Israel
Website: http:/​/​www.israaid.org
Project Leader:
Shachar Zahavi
natanya, Japan

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