On March 11, 2011, a large earthquake and tsunami hit the eastern side of the Tohoku region of Japan and destroyed much of the area causing a confirmed death toll of approximately 16,000. More than 2,600 are still missing. When it happened, one of the things that we experienced at our Japanese House exhibit, an authentic house from Kyoto, Japan, was that it became a place for the gathering and sharing of thoughts and prayers of our visitors. Soon after March 11, 2011, the visitation number to the Japanese House visibly increased. Every day we heard adults talking to their kids about what was happening in Japan and teaching them about a sense of respect and empathy for those who were suffering, in a way that they would understand. On March 12th, we placed a “wish tree” by the exhibit, and the visitors’ response was very strong. Mao, our intern at the time, organized her schedule several times each day to keep up with and take care of the tree, as many more visitors wanted to add their comments than we had expected. Some visitors even knocked on our office door wondering if there were more comment cards, because previous visitors had used all that we put out. In March 2011, we saw the Japanese House become a participatory place for the entire community.
Two years have now passed and though the recovery effort goes on, that area of Japan is still struggling in many ways. At the same time, the friendship that was offered from the US and other parts of world is still fresh. Many in Tohoku said that they felt the entire world became their family comforting them. Indeed, what happened in the Japanese House was the same thing – people in Boston voicing concerns and expressing their caring thoughts through the Japanese House. We saw the Boston people’s strength – caring for others even though they are far away.
On March 11 of this year in the Japanese House, museum staff members Sammee and Kasey created a small window display called “Remembering 3/11” with our collection objects from the Tohoku region; Kasey’s personal stories and photos from her time in Fukushima; and a book resource list for older kids and adults. They also offered a game activity in which they asked the visitors to seek out hidden paper cranes which they had placed in various spots in the Japanese House. While our young visitors explored the house searching for those hidden cranes, they also had a chance to learn about the meaning of the paper cranes as a symbol of peace and caring. It was another day on which the Japanese House exhibit served as a community meeting space for our visitors and a space to remember. While time has passed since 2011, what still remains is people’s caring, empathy and the desire to share with their children and each other the importance of seeing ourselves as a world community.