Photos make slow way home in tsunami-hit Japan

Tue Feb 21, 2012 11:21am EST
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By Chris Meyers

OFUNATO, Japan (Reuters) - In a large, bright room not far from the ocean that raged through this coastal Japanese city nearly a year ago, a handful of people with magnifying glasses pore over boxes of photographs of friends or loved ones.

The massive March 11 tsunami that leveled buildings and flattened towns along a wide swathe of northern Japan, including Ofunato, also took a more subtle toll, with hundreds of thousands of photographs lost to the churning waters.

But now these memories are slowly making their way back to their owners, thanks to the painstaking efforts of a team that cleans them of mud, dirt and oil.

"I got one photo blown up, and I was so thankful for that. I put it in a frame, and it brought tears to my eyes," said 77-year-old resident Yoshiko Jindai, looking through boxes of photographs.

Ofunato has enlisted a team of seven part-time staffers to help sort though the over 350,000 photos that have accumulated after being brought in by police, firefighters, rescue workers and average citizens who were looking through the rubble.

In charge of cleaning and restoring the photos is paper conservator Satoko Kinno, who said her job is the second stage in the marathon of returning the photos to their owners after they are found.

"I try to remember that people found these photos in the midst of rubble, and that I have to take the baton from them. So that's where I get my motivation," Kinno said.

The photos are frozen once found to prevent bacteria and mold from growing on them until they can be properly cleaned and packed for display.   Continued...

Tsunami victim Tokie Sakamoto looks at an album of her family photographs, which were washed away by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, after receiving them from volunteer in Ofunato, Iwate prefecture, February 20, 2012.  REUTERS/Toru Hanai