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. And again, I had the opportunity to see the great impact of the tsunami. Arahama population was around 2,400 people before the 2011 tsunami, and more than 200 people have been killed and still missing.

I smelt the beach, but I could not see sea waves directly because of along the shoreline was built the seawall, one of the structural mitigation carried out by the Japanese government to prepare the possibility of the tsunami disaster in the future. I estimated the distance to the beach and the location I stood up 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 by using a particular binder.

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

“These flags seems like a message if they want to return to this area.” Said Oda-san. He also explained if the Japanese government had to relocate 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 of the building. 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 make this building as a tsunami heritage.

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Lessons learned from the field

The spirit of Tsunami-Tendenko

Suddenly, tsunami-tendenko crossed my mind. Tsunami-tendenko is famous in Sanriku region where the tsunami has frequently hit this area. Tsunami-tendeko is one of Japanese indigenous knowledge that introduced by Fumio Yamashita, an expert on Japan’s tsunami history who had 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 disaster are many people crowded to find and to save their family. It could be contributed to the congestion on the roads, and people will not have enough time to save their lives.

The spirit of tsunami-tendon was successfully applied in elementary and junior high school in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture. Since 2005, disaster education was implemented in the class by introducing the spirit of tsunami-tendenko. The students were taught when the tsunami come, 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 gets 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 of tsunami-tendeko against the good power spirit.

The tsunami-tendenko spirit requires further study to translate it into practical. There are dilemmas in the process, but among the dilemmas, we have to make a decision.(***)

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