Japan hosts World Tsunami Museum Conference

Participants at the first ever World Tsunami Museum Conference hosted by Japan earlier this month (Photo: UNISDR)
 
By Yuki Matsuoka

Okinawa, 17 November - Directors and representatives from eight museums and organizations around the world, recently came together with government officials in the Japanese city of Ishigaki in Okinawa for the first ever World Tsunami Museum Conference.

The conference was held on 5 November to mark World Tsunami Awareness Day (WTAD) and may lead to the creation of an international network of disaster museums. Participants came from Chile, Indonesia, Japan, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey and the United States.

In welcome remarks, the Mayor of Ishigaki, Mr. Yoshitaka Nakayama, emphasized the role of local knowledge and the need to “learn from the past so we are all better prepared”. The city itself, suffered tremendous casualties from the 1771 Great Meiwa Tsunami which killed over half the population.

Member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Teru Fukui, stressed overcoming “our natural instinct which is to forget sad events. When it came to tsunamis he said there was a need to “make it a part of daily living to evacuate to higher ground as the natural thing to do”.

Aimed at strengthening cooperation among museums as centres of disaster prevention education, and for transferring knowledge and experiences to future generations, the conference was welcomed as a catalyst for discussions on a possible international network of disaster museums.

Ten institutions from Japan and abroad participated, including seventy people from 26 entities, eight disaster museums, a training centre, and a national emergency management agency. The conference also featured a special lecture on disaster recovery, and a unique 3D multimedia video with footage of the immediate aftermath and ongoing recovery of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

Throughout the conference, tsunami museums and participating organizations were recognized for their role as cultural facilities and preservers of knowledge, along with their ability to promote public awareness and pass down education.

According to Mr. Fukui, whatever form museums took, including “field museums”, such as rock soil and tsunami boulders, they all served as “monuments to past tsunamis”, possessing “great power to contribute to people's knowledge of disasters and disaster risk reduction”.

Recommendations from the conference included greater inter-country collaboration, especially on information, exhibits and resources. With a number of participating museums moving to digital archives, even more opportunities were identified for cooperation.

In her report of the World Tsunami Museum Conference to the second High School Students Island Summit, which was also held in Okinawa in observation of World Tsunami Awareness Day, Ms. Ratchaneekorn Thongthip, Director of the International Tsunami Museum in Thailand told 255 students from 26 countries, “We may have been strangers yesterday, but let us stand united with you as our Ambassadors in building community resilience from today onwards.”

The first World Tsunami Museum Conference was co-organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the UNISDR Office in Japan. Cooperation was provided by the International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS), Tohoku University.
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