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Harley exhibit in Miyagi Pref. memorializes tsunami pain through motorbikes

Two Harley Davidson bikes that were damaged in the tsunami are displayed in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, on April 21, 2019. The photos on the walls are of the "Miracle Harley," found 6,500 kilometers away in Canada. (Mainichi/Issei Takizawa)

SENDAI -- Two Harley Davidson motorbikes damaged in the March 2011 tsunami and photos of a "miracle" bike that washed up on the shores of Canada about a year after the disaster are part of a new exhibition that opened in the town of Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, on April 21.

The organizers of the Tsunami Harley exhibition space say they want the display to serve as a reminder to future generations and the world. The presentation has been built on a corner of the Yamamoto Yume Ichigo no Sato farm produce shop. Masataka Naruke, 65, who works in local automobile maintenance, established the space as representative director of Machizukuri Yamamoto, a group dedicated to community initiatives in the town.

One of the bikes is owned by Kazuhiro Saeki, a farmer and resident of Yamamoto. The other, which has a side car, was recovered from the Arahama district of the nearby town of Watari, much of which was flattened by the tsunami on March 11, 2011. Watari-based garage Tamada Jidosha Shokai donated the bike for the exhibit.

Masatake Naruke unveils the Tsunami Harley exhibition space on April 21, 2019, in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture. (Mainichi/Issei Takizawa)

In the immediate aftermath of the March 11 tsunami, Naruke removed at least 2,000 cars and bikes in the clean-up effort. It was during this time he found Saeki's Harley Davidson buried under the rubble. He knew it was a bike he had worked on. "When I found the bike, I immediately thought of Saeki," he says, looking back. Saeki agreed to Naruke's request to keep the bike as a reminder of the disaster for future generations, and donated it for exhibition. Saeki's Harley is exhibited with the effects of the tsunami intact, its right handle bar missing and the body covered in rust.

The space also features photographs of the "Miracle Harley." The bike, owned by Yamamoto resident Ikuo Yokoyama, was discovered on the shore of Graham Island just off British Columbia, in western Canada. It washed up around April 2012, over a year after the tsunami swept it out to sea. At Yokoyama's request, the bike remains on display at Harley Davidson Inc.'s headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the U.S.

Yokoyama sent a statement to the unveiling ceremony on April 21. "The tsunami took my father and two brothers, but I have always had support from people around me. I want the world's bikers to know about the tragedy of the March 11 earthquake," it said.

Rows of motorbikes belonging to enthusiasts from across the country who attended the ceremony are seen on April 21, 2019, in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture. (Mainichi/Issei Takizawa)

Motorcycle enthusiasts from across the country came to the ceremony, with around 170 bikes crammed into the parking lot nearby. Shuichi Fujinuma, 59, of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, spoke about seeing the damaged bike. "It makes you remember that time. It's been eight years, but riding along the coast here you still don't get the feeling the area is reviving."

In his opening remarks, Naruke set out his ambition for the exhibit. "I want to show people across the country that this is a place where miracles happen, and pass on experiences from the disaster."

(Japanese original by Issei Takizawa, Sendai Bureau)

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