Resource: Voices from Tohoku

tohokuProfessor David Slater of Sophia University in Tokyo has been a part of great efforts to support those affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, including ensuring that their stories are heard. Today’s resource is an archive launched last year of oral narratives (in Japanese) from various communities affected by the disaster. Below we include Professor Slater’s original announcement describing the goals and production of the archive:

Voices from Tohoku

Over the past 3+ years, we have collected video oral narratives from more than 10 communities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. We have more than 500 hours in total, making it one of the largest such archives we know of. Most of the interviewing has been done by undergraduates at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Sophia University, Tokyo.

“Voices of Tohoku” is a Japanese website that features a collection of clips taken from our full archive, each with Japanese transcriptions and thematic tags. These clips were first provided to our primary audience–the Tohoku informants themselves–as some record of how people felt during the unfolding of events within community life in post 3.11 Tohoku. The stories are not always happy but one informant suggested that we make them available to the public. “After all,” she said, “we only told you these stories so you would tell the world what really happened.” The website is not fancy but it is functional, a work in progress. (Of course, we have full release forms for all material.)

During the data collection, we returned to each site for repeated visits for at least a year, always doing volunteer work to better understand the specifics of the community. Rather than focusing on the often horrific tales of destruction on “the day of,” we tried to give our informants a more expansive chance to talk about their lives in more detail. Wanting minimal interruption, we often asked only three questions during our interviews: what was your community like before 3.11; how has it been from the disaster until today; what is your vision of the future?


We are not collecting any more Tohoku narratives, not because the situation is in any sense “over”–it is not–but because we do not have any more money to send people into Tohoku. We are currently translating the interviews into English and looking for a way to make the full archive open to other scholars in a responsible and effective way.

We gratefully acknowledge support from Sophia University, the Toyota Foundation and a JSPS grant from the Japanese government. Also, we thank the many graduate students, post-grad scholars, colleagues, NPO leaders and of course, our many interviewees and collaborators in Tohoku, who have helped us make the archive what it is so far.

For further information posted on Shinpai Deshou in the past on the Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami, please see the following links:


About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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