Records must be kept with an eye to the future

The Asahi Shimbun ( January 17,2007)

The Great Hanshin Earthquake struck on this day in 1995. Twelve years is a long time. It amounts to an entire cycle of the Chinese zodiac as 1995, like 2007, was the Year of the Boar. A child who then was in the first grade at elementary school would now be in college. Some may wonder how we should continue to pass down memories of that disaster.

In Japan, anyone could fall victim to an earthquake at any time.
That's what Kazunori Takamori, who experienced the earthquake in Kobe, wrote 12 years ago in a letter to The Asahi Shimbun. He called for citizens to record their own experiences on paper, using pencils and word processors.

Takamori, who ran a publishing company, served as a representative of an association set up to continuously record how the Great Hanshin Earthquake affected people's lives.

The association published a collection of notes written by citizens every year with the goal of issuing 10 volumes.

In December 2004, Takamori finally completed proofreading the 10th volume, "Hanshin Daishinsai kara 10 nen--Mirai no Hisaisha e no Message" (10 years after the Great Hanshin Earthquake--messages for those who could suffer disaster in the future), when a heart attack ended his life. He was 57.

It was his wish to "keep a record of the trivial notes of the ordinary people that are missing from public records." The starting point of his action goes back to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Takamori's father visited the city of Hiroshima in August 1945 as a soldier and was exposed to radiation. In his later years, when he applied for a hibakusha kenko techo that officially designates a person as an A-bomb victim, he explained he had seen some words written at the foot of a bridge of the Otagawa river that runs through Hiroshima.

Someone had written the translation of an old Chinese poem in chalk:
"Kuni yaburete Sanga ari" (The country is defeated, yet mountains and rivers remain). His description matched someone else's record, and his memory was acknowledged as an atomic bombing experience. Takamori used to say, "It was a small matter, but fortunately someone had made the effort to keep a record."

I went back to look at The Asahi Shimbun from 12 years ago. As the days passed, the number of deaths kept rising. The morning edition of Jan. 20 had a two-page spread filled with words only. Names, ages and addresses of the victims covered two full pages.

It was an epitaph of the worst disaster to strike postwar Japan. I etched this into my memory again, as a silent message for "those who could suffer disaster in the future."