Voices of Tohoku-visual community archive project

by IsraAID
Feb 19, 2013

Progress Report

behind the scenes of an interview
behind the scenes of an interview

Background of the Project

On March 11th 2011, Japan was hit by one of the most powerful earthquakes (9.0 Richter scale) ever recorded in history. Following the earthquake, Tsunami waves over 40.5 meters high (133ft) devastated Japan's eastern coast, damaging more than 500,000 buildings, and leaving 21,000 dead and 250,000 homeless in its wake.

For the survivors of this tragedy, life will never be the same. Seeing homes and livelihood completely destroyed, and losing friends and loved ones in front of their very eyes, the survivors of the Tsunami experienced a horrific event that that shook the foundations of their existence. Even from the beginning of IsraAID's mission to Japan, we found that the survivors felt a strong need to share stories of their experiences and events. Reliving the effect of the tragedy is challenging, and it seems the weight of the experience and trauma was so heavy for the survivors that they felt a need to tell someone about it, or to 'let it out'. IsraAID believes that creating a space and platform for people to share their personal experiences is a fundamental part of the healing process of these survivors. In addition to its therapeutic importance, documentation of these stories preserves the collective memory of the community that was changed in the disaster.


Voices of Tohoku

September 2012

In early September, IsraAID conducted a seminar for Japanese professors from various Universities and institutions (Tokyo University, Meiji Gakuin University, Akita, Dipex, World Health Organization). In this seminar, the main focus was on interviewing theory—how to approach interviewees and speak to them in effective ways. This seminar was conducted by Professor Amia Lieblich, an oral history expert who has conducted interviews for personal archive projects with Holocaust survivors, Tibetan refugees in India and others. After the seminar, the program moved to Tohoku, where 20 community leaders from Yamamoto-Cho, Watari-Cho and Sendai went through 5-day extensive interview training. During these five days, the group of interviewers learned video interviewing techniques and conducted mock interviews to prepare them for real interviews. During this time, photographer Alex Levac arrived for two weeks and with the help of local municipality and community leaders, gathered photos of places and activities that represent the spirit of the towns of Watari and Yamamoto.



October 2012 – March 2013

 After the interviewers were trained, an IsraAID project coordinator made a schedule for interviews. Local community leaders started conducting interviews first with top ranking officials in local municipality and then with other local groups and documented a wide perspective of the community story. While interviews were only administered to those who wished to share their story, we were able to gather valuable stories from interesting people such as teachers who ran the evacuation shelters, firemen who had saved lives, and people who had lived in the most affected areas.  Each interviewee was required to sign a release form that gives them the option to either allow IsraAID to use all of the materials freely or to limit the use of their personal testimony. Roughly 95% of participants agreed for their testimony to be open to the public. As of February 2013, IsraAID has gathered over 75, 60-90 min testimonies from the towns of Watari and Yamamoto, which currently is considered among the largest video documentation made to date in Tohoku. This large number of interviews was made do to IsraAId strong trust with the local communities,  We received full support from local municipality and our work has gained a positive momentum in the community.



Future Plans


On March 8th  2013 we will hold an academic event for professors from various Japanese Universities on Oral History Research based on the stories from Tohoku.

Also we will launch our community books and honor our local partners at a ceremony.

Following we will begin delivering the participants from Tohoku a package that will include each personal interview on DVD along side with the community book.

In addition we will launch local archives in the Towns of Watari and Yamamoto so that residents will have access to the videos produced by Voices of Tohoku project.

The local municipality will copy our digital files so that data will remain stored for the future.

Local Municipality will also hold a screening event for the local residents.



Since the start of the “Voices of Tohoku” project in early September 2012, the scale of the project has grown dramatically and awareness of the project has further increased interest in the Tohoku region and in the academic communities around Japan, and it allowed IsraAID to partner with academic institutions such as Meiji Gakuin and University of Tokyo and others so to expand the program into additional towns and within the towns we currently work. 

interview with teacher in Watari-Cho
interview with teacher in Watari-Cho
interview with elderly man Watari-Cho
interview with elderly man Watari-Cho
couple interview in Yamamoto-Cho
couple interview in Yamamoto-Cho
interview with mayor of Watari-Cho
interview with mayor of Watari-Cho
interview with resident of Yamamoto-Cho
interview with resident of Yamamoto-Cho

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Organization Information


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

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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