April 12, 2011

Handwritten Newspapers From Ravaged Japan at Newseum

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Goal to Save a Town Through Soccer

By Sharon Shahid, online managing editor

As the city of Ishinomaki, Japan, and surrounding areas continue to rebuild after the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the region, soccer has become the area's salvation.

In Onagawa, a hard-hit town near Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, approximately 5, 700 people, more than half the town, are reported missing. The local soccer club — Cobaltore Onagawa — has taken on the daunting task of trying to maintain the town's very survival by stemming the tide of young residents they fear will leave in the aftermath of the natural disasters.

Onagawa's population had been declining for decades, with employment opportunities limited to fishing or working at the nuclear power plant. Young people have abandoned the town for the larger cities of Tokyo and Sendai.

The Cobaltore Onagawa soccer club was formed in 2006 specifically to boost community pride and to encourage young people to stay. Koichi Ohmi, publisher of Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun, the newspaper that was the subject of the Newseum's April 12 Web feature on the handwritten newspapers, is the team's general manager.

The town's strategy for the soccer club was a success. Then the twin disasters struck.

Since then, Cobaltore Onagawa players have become the town's lifeline, distributing water and food to local residents. The team will not participate in the Tohoku Regional League for the 2011 season and are focusing on raising funds to rebuild the town through a charity based in the United Kingdom called Onagawa Supporters.

For more information on how to make donations to help restore the region, please visit the Onagawa Supporters website.

When the worst earthquake in Japan's history and the subsequent tsunami knocked out all power in the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, editors at the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun, the city's daily newspaper, printed news of the disaster the only way they could: by pen and paper.

For six consecutive days after the twin disasters, reporters used flashlights and marker pens to write their stories on poster-size paper and posted the "newspapers" at the entrances of relief centers around the city. Six staff members collected stories, while three spent an hour and a half each day writing the newspapers by hand.

The Newseum has acquired seven of the originals for its permanent collection of historic newspapers, some of which will be featured in an exhibit in the Time Warner World News Gallery May 2. The newspapers are a powerful testament to the timeless human need to know and to journalists' commitment to providing that information.

"Without the benefit of any of the 21st century conveniences or technological advancements, and in the face of significant personal hardships, these journalists were distinctly committed to providing their community with critical information, and they used simple pen and paper to do it," said Carrie Christoffersen, curator of collections.

Throughout history, journalists have found ways to deliver the news when normal methods have been hampered. During the Civil War's Union siege of 1863, newsprint was so scarce in Vicksburg, Miss., that The Daily Citizen printed on wallpaper. On display in the News Corporation News History Gallery is an issue of the Citizen that declared, "This is the last wall-paper edition. It will be valuable hereafter as a curiosity."

The Newseum became aware of the Hibi Shimbun's heroic efforts from a March 21, 2011, story on the earthquake in The Washington Post. That morning, Brian Nishimura Lee, the Newseum's senior administrator for database and financial systems, emailed editors at the Hibi Shimbun and requested copies of the handwritten editions for the museum's collection.

Lee, whose hometown of Fukuoka is located on Kyushu Island, about 800 miles from Ishinomaki, acted as the Newseum's liaison between curators and the newspaper's editors. Communication was daily, despite the 13-hour time difference between Washington and Japan.

Ishinomaki, with a population of about 160,000 people, was one of the hardest hit in Japan. Approximately 80 percent of the homes were destroyed. About 1,300 people have died, and more than 2,700 are still missing.

The first handwritten newspaper on March 12 was an "Extra" edition that informed residents that the earthquake was "the biggest in the history of Japan." The next day's edition told about "rescue teams arriving in some areas." On March 16, the paper said, "Let's overcome the hardship with mutual support." By March 17, the paper wrote about the lights coming back on.

The first printed edition of the newspaper since the power outage was published on March 18. Editions have been distributed free to refugee sites each day.

Multiple aftershocks have struck Japan since March 11, causing more power outages and resulting in additional deaths. Tap water and gas lines for heating and cooking have not been restored in many areas. Officials estimate May as the earliest month that utilities will be restored.

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