Can a stark reminder of a natural disaster ever become an essential part of the fabric of a local community?
That question is being asked as legacies of last year's Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami are vanishing throughout northeastern Japan.
A gigantic fish oil tank knocked on its side by tsunami in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was a testament to the horrors of March 11, 2011.
The tank, which towered to a height of 10.8 meters and featured the design of a can of cooked whale meat, lay on the center divide of a road after it was carried 300 meters by the tidal waves.
Kinoya Ishinomaki Suisan, a seafood processing company, owned the tank but demolished it on June 30. It intends to reprocess the steel into tables, chairs and other items to be displayed at factories being planned.
"We want to leave (those items) as mementos that people born after the earthquake and tsunami can touch and feel," said the vice president, Takayuki Kimura, 57.
The company, whose best-selling products include canned whale meat, initially planned to relocate the tank to its original location but abandoned the idea after it learned it would cost 20 million yen ($250,000)
The tank, like other reminders of the tsunami's destructive force, had drawn mixed reactions from residents. Many wanted it to be preserved, while others abhorred the sight of it.
Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki became widely known after 84 students and teachers were listed as dead or missing while trying to flee the tsunami.
Some bereaved family members are calling for the ruined school building to be preserved as a monument to the tragedy.
The city government sounded out citizens on which damaged structures were worth preserving, but received only seven responses by the June 29 deadline. The issue is still being studied.
Some municipalities are taking the lead in preserving facilities damaged by the tsunami.
The city of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, has proposed creating a memorial park around a large fishing boat that was swept 750 meters inland from the port.
The No. 18 Kyotoku Maru, 50 meters long and weighing 1,000 tons, attracts a sprinkling of visitors on weekends.
Mayor Shigeru Sugawara said, "There is nothing better than this for people now, as well as 50 or 100 years into the future, in terms of understanding (the brutal force of tsunami)."
Not everybody embraces the idea, although Sugawara said he senses that support for the park is growing.
According to city statistics, 430,000 tourists visited the city last year, down 83 percent from 2010. The manager of a hotel said the park would provide a much-needed stimulus to local tourism.
In Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, city officials decided to preserve the wrecked Tarou Kanko Hotel after its manager proposed turning the building into a memorial hall.
The tsunami reached up to the fourth floor, and only a skeletal steel frame remains for the first and second floors.
The city government plans to research ways to preserve the building with 35 million yen in central government subsidies.
The town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, is studying whether it can reproduce the Hamayuri sightseeing boat that ended up on the rooftop of an inn.
Despite calls for preservation, the town government demolished the vessel two months after the earthquake, fearing it could fall off and cause injuries.
A group of citizens recently submitted a reconstruction plan with a proposal to reproduce the ship as a monument.
Some residents say it would be a tourist draw, but Seiichi Nakamura, secretary-general of the citizens group, said the proposal should not be seen as a means to attract tourists.
"We must focus on efforts to help citizens rebuild their lives and only move to the reproduction project once that is accomplished," Nakamura said.
Nobuo Shuto, professor emeritus at Tohoku University and an expert in tsunami engineering, said, "Unless wreckage is preserved, it will be difficult to hand down lessons to future generations or conduct research on the tsunami."
In May, Shuto set up a group with more than 10 researchers in Miyagi Prefecture to study ways to convey the reality of the earthquake and tsunami to future generations.
Nobuo Imai, an associate professor of sociology at Kwansei Gakuin University, said it is still too early to decide what to do with damaged structures.
Imai noted that calls only arose five or six years after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake to preserve a massive firewall that escaped major damage in Kobe.
(This article was written by Shunichi Kawabata and Nobuyoshi Nakamura.)
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