As you may recall, the Fish Arch project was led by a group of students taking Yasushi Ikeda’s lab at Keio University. The group was asked to contribute to the Obon Festival by doing an installation. Since there had been a construction moratorium up until recently, there was no way the students could build anything permanent. So they decided that a temporary installation that the residents and children could take part in might be fun and uplifting and serve as a symbolic act. A lumber yard in Kesennuma donated the wood scraps for the project, which were then laser cut into the fish shapes. Visitors, staff and students from Keio University signed the fish with messages of support for the victims.
The student group then took the modular fishes down to Kesennuma for the Obon Festival at the end of August. The Obon festival is a national holiday devoted to remembering the dead and is usually a positive time where families return to their homes and celebrate being together. This year was a little different because of the tsunami as many did not have homes to return to and around 1,000 people perished and 400 are still missing. Bill Galloway, a research lecturer at Keio University who assisted with the student project, told us “Preparations for the festival were not so easy and really there is always the question of whether it is appropriate to return to a more normal life already or not. In the end the community decided to go ahead with the festival but to keep it a bit low key.”
This year the festival was held on the school grounds where temporary shelters were set up and the Fish Arch was assembled as part of the celebrations. About 60 6th-graders from the elementary school participated by building the arch with the help of the 13-member student group. They built 3 arches in a few hours and then the younger kids helped to hang LED lamps on it so that it would be visible at night during the festival itself. Afterwards, the arches were deconstructed and the signed fish were given out to the residents.
Galloway, who was on hand during the installation, admitted, “I was not sure how [it] would be received, but in fact the community really embraced the project and they all wanted to have the signed fish to take home. It is a good thing to be reminded that in times of disaster it is not only the practical and the needful, but also the symbolic and the heartfelt that are part of the recovery process.”
As for the recovery efforts in Kesennuma, Galloway sends an update. Roads are now rebuilt and passable in Kesennuma, but the cleanup is still a long way from complete. Temporary shelters have been set up on the grounds of the elementary school where the festival took place. The waterfront has been remarkably cleaned up and is easily navigated by the temporary resurfaced roads, but you can also see that a lot of work remains.
Project Images Courtesy of Ikeda Lab, Keio University and Bill Galloway