Voices of Tohoku-visual community archive project

by IsraAID
May 20, 2013

Project expansion Feb-May 2013

Opening of the first community archive in Watari
Opening of the first community archive in Watari

February  – May 2013

 After the interviewers were trained, an IsraAID project coordinator scheduled interviews. Local community leaders started conducting interviews first with top ranking officials in the local municipality and then with other local groups and individuals. By doing so, IsraAID was able to document 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, residents of the temporary houses, and people who had lived in the most affected areas. 

Each interviewee was required to sign a release form, in which he /she could choose whether they would like to "share their story with the world", or keep it within the local community.  Surprisingly, about 95% of the participants agreed to share their testimony with the public.

 As of late May 2013, IsraAID has gathered over 110, 60-90 min testimonies from the towns of Watari and Yamamoto in Miyagi prefecture, and the collection is one of the largest video documentations related to the 2011 Tohoku disaster.

This large number of stories was collected mostly because of IsraAId's strong trust with the local communities. We have received full support from local municipality and our work has gained a positive momentum in the community.  Through word of mouth, we were able to find more and more people willing to share their stories. 

Personal: Each person interviewed received a specially packaged DVD containing the full contents of their interview and a community book provided by Hewlett Packard (HP). The DVD booklet can be passed down generations, and especially for the elderly, a hard copy of their story serves to preserve their memories.

Community: IsraAID  launched the first community archives in Watari and Yamamoto on April 2013.

During the opening ceremony, about 120 participants including the mayor, communitiy leaders and temporary housing residents who were interviewed participated (see attached article).

Each archive includes all the testimonies from the community, as well as the community book, and will be located in the community centers.

So that the local community and schools can use this package for memorial and educational purposes, we have worked to make it as openly public as possible. In Watari, the archive has been given a special section in the central town library, where anyone can come and watch the stories.


National and international Awareness:

To raise awareness of this project, on March 8th 2013, IsraAID conducted two big events at Hilton Tokyo.

The first was an academic event hosted by Prof.Amia Lieblich with professors from Japanese Universities  (University of Tokyo, Meiji Gakuin University, Kyoto University, etc.). In this event we discussed the possibilities of research based on the testimonies from Tohoku and presented samples of interviews.  

The second was an awareness event under the title "Voices of Tohoku" in which we presented the project, as a whole including few testimonies and the community books. The event received large media coverage and the guests included 30 leaders from Tohoku including the mayor of Watari, Former Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Fujisaki Ichiro, and representatives of NPOs working in Tohoku.

Some of the interviews are also in the process of being translated into English, so the stories can be viewed and understood by people worldwide.

Further, so these stories can benefit the future of Japan, we are currently in the process of digitally archiving these videos in various digital archives, including the “Hinagiku”, the Great East Japan Earthquake archive owned by the National Diet Library of Japan. In the archiving process, interviews will be transcribed, translated, subtitled, based on each archives’ needs. In the future, researchers will be able to access these archives to use the videos for qualitative research into the disaster. These archives will provide a sustainable framework that will allow this project to expand in the future as the diversity of the voices grows.

Future Plans

Since the launching 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. This increase in interest has allowed IsraAID to partner with academic institutions such as Meiji Gakuin University and local NPOs. Additionally, we have been able to create trust in other communities, providing IsraAID with the opportunity to expand the program into additional towns in Tohoku and within the towns we currently operate in. IsraAID believes that this project has a potential for further growth both on the local and national aspects.


Future plans for 2013:


  • Continuing documentation in the towns of Watari and Yamamoto to expand the archive scope and increase participation opportunities for the public. To secure this we printed many extra copies of community books that will be distributed for the future participants. Since the opening of the community archive in Watari and Yamamoto IsraAID received requests from many residents of the temporary housing area who are now interested insharing their stories and become part of the community archive.


  • Expanding the project to the city of Ishinomaki where IsraAID has a large group of community leaders interested in taking part in the project. In each of these cities IsraAID has a strong partnership with the local authority and local NPOs who have shown interest in participating in Voices of Tohoku. In Addition, IsraAID received a commitment from HP to print 500 additional community books for the new participants in Ishinomaki.Since April 2013 IsraAID already started to interview residents of the tempoaryhousing area in Ishinomaki including an interview with the Vice Mayor. Ishinomaki community book is already in the designing stage.


  • Recently, IsraAID has connected with various evacuee communities from Fukushima, who are now located in Saitama, Osaka and Akita. These communities evacuated Fukushima after high radiation levels endangered their homes. As result, these communities deal with high levels of stress and fear from the unknown that is different to that of other communities. IsraAID plan to include these communities in the Voices of Tohoku project with a specific focus on the testimonies about life before the disaster in Fukushima, as well as their hopes for the future. IsraAID is in the process of building the partnership with Fukushima Evacuees center in Osaka, Akita and Saitama. The training part will take place during the third quarter of 2013.


  • Making the project more sustainable and long-term. There has been great interest in this archive project from students and professors of Meiji Gakuin University and film and design students in Musashino Art University. By allowing Japanese students take a role in the development of the project, we believe that the Voices of Tohoku project can become more sustainable and expand. Further, recently IsraAID has been partnering with high school students and high school student organizations in Tohoku, interested in the Voices of Tohoku project. With this partnership, we are currently in the process of trying to create a platform that can allow the youth of Tohoku to interview and archive the voices of the elderly, further emphasizing the community aspect of this project.Both Musashino University and Meiji Gakuin University students went through the basic interviewing training and visited the affected areas in Tohoku. Interviews will start during June 2013.



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Organization Information


Location: Be'er Sheva - Israel
Website: http://www.israaid.co.il
Project Leader:
Shachar Zahavi
natanya, Japan