How should relics of earthquakes and tsunamis be treated? This question came into focus amid moves to dismantle the remains of the former municipal government headquarters of the Iwate Prefecture town of Otsuchi, which was fatally struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The two-story coastal structure was flooded to the ceiling of the second floor during the disaster in 2011, claiming the lives of the mayor and 28 workers.
Opinions over the fate of the damaged building were split, with some saying it was painful to look at and others saying it provided a stark glimpse of damage from the disaster. In 2013, it was decided to preserve part of the building, but that decision was overturned in 2015 following the election of the current mayor, who campaigned to tear down the structure.
A supplementary budget to cover the dismantling of the structure was approved by the town assembly in March this year, and on June 18 heavy machinery moved in and began dismantling the interior of the building.
Now, however, the dismantling work has come to a standstill, as town officials failed to submit the legally required notification for the demolition work to the Iwate Prefectural Government. Residents asking that preservation of the building be considered have sought a temporary injunction seeking a halt to demolition work, and the two sides have thus failed to reach an agreement.
In coastal areas that suffered tsunami damage, many buildings and other damaged structures were dismantled or removed, partly out of consideration for the feelings of people who suffered damage or lost family members to the disaster.
At the same time, some have sought out ways to preserve damaged structures. Relics that testify to the overwhelming destruction of the tsunami not only serve as sites for the repose of victims' souls, but have social value as places for disaster prevention education, conveying lessons from the past to future generations.
In 2013 the Reconstruction Agency indicated that it would support the preservation of quake disaster relics. The first grant of restoration funds for such a project was to preserve the Taro Kanko Hotel in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture.
It is likely the situation in Otsuchi has been complicated by the fact that there are residents who feel that inspections of the site have been insufficient and that there has not been enough debate on the issue.
To provide a comparative example, the Miyagi Prefecture town of Minamisanriku has decided to put off until 2031 a decision on whether to dismantle or preserve its disaster countermeasures building, where a number of town workers died
One well-known relic in Japan -- though not from a quake disaster -- is the A-bomb Dome in Hiroshima. Following debate over whether to keep the landmark or tear it down, it was decided to preserve the structure in 1966 -- roughly 20 years on.
Once a building is demolished, it will be gone forever. Rather than merely deciding whether to dismantle or preserve a structure in a two-sided debate, the idea of moving disaster relics to preserve them could also be considered.
In any case, it is most desirable to find a solution that is acceptable to residents. Is there really no time to reconsider the issue so as not to leave lingering resentment?