The Spirit of “Tsunami Tendenko”

At the beginning of winter, Oda-san; a friend of mine who works as a researcher and lecturer at one of the leading university in Japan, invited me to visit tsunami-affected areas, not so far from Sendai City. Less than an hour by bus with his students, we arrived in Arahama. Although not for the first time for me visited this area, there were the new things that I got. Arahama was devastated by the tsunami on March 11, 2011. The population was around 2,400 people, and more than 200 people were killed and still missing.

I smelt the beach, but I couldn’t see seawater directly because of along the shoreline the seawall obstructed my view. The structural mitigation carried out by the Japanese government to prevent the possibility of the tsunami disaster in the future. I estimated the distance to the beach and the location where I stood around a hundred meters. I looked around, no more houses and found reeds as tall as an adult. Small yellow flags were swaying in the breeze triggered my curiosity. The flags were installed along the rope and connected to the ground with the binder.

“What does the flag means ?” I asked enthusiastically to Oda-san.

“These flags seems like a message if the people want to return to this area again,” said Oda-san. He also explained if the Japanese government had relocated the entire of populations to new places far away from the coastal zone.

Arahama elementary school was the only building left. The tsunami reached the second floor. The building had been saved more than 300 people. The upstairs of the building functioned for evacuation site. I assumed that the Japanese government will remain the building as a tsunami heritage.

Lessons learned from the field

The spirit of Tsunami-Tendenko

Suddenly, tsunami-tendenko crossed my mind. The tsunami-tendenko is famous in Sanriku region. Sanriku region hit by several tsunamis. The tsunami-tendeko is one of Japanese local wisdom that introduced by Fumio Yamashita, an expert on Japan’s tsunami history who experienced the 1933 tsunami.

Briefly, tendenko could mean “go separately.” So the spirit tendenko is an attempted to avoid “tomo-daore.” Tomo-daore is a situation that could be made people in danger for inappropriate action at the time of disaster. Most of the casualties in the event of the disaster when many people tried to find their family. It created the congestion on the roads, and people did not have enough time to save their lives.

The spirit of tsunami-tendenko was successfully applied in elementary and junior high school in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture. Since 2005, disaster education implemented in the class by introducing the spirit of tsunami-tendenko. When the tsunami comes, as soon as possible evacuate to a higher place. The concept had saved 2,900 students.

However the tsunami-tendenko spirit came to success, it still takes further studies. For example, in psychology that people have a strong desire to save others during a difficult situation. It is a moral command inherent in the human soul. It seems like the message in tsunami-tendeko against the good power spirit.

The tsunami-tendenko spirit requires further study through a practical example. There are dilemmas in every decision, but amongst the dilemmas, we have to make an action.(***)


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