Tokyo 2020 Recovery Monuments: A symbol of hope 

Messages from Tohoku students were framed in the Tokyo 2020 Recovery monuments
Messages from Tohoku students were framed in the Tokyo 2020 Recovery monuments

Students involved in the production of the monuments reflect on resilience of the Tohoku people 

The Tokyo 2020 Recovery Monuments project will symbolise the gratitude of the Tohoku people for the support they’ve received from around the world while trying to inspire the athletes competing at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

It’s this combined message of the world’s appreciation, the power of sport through the athletes and deep emotions resulting from all this, which will be delivered to the disaster-affected areas in the form of the monuments to lift their spirits.

Messages from middle and high school students in three Tohoku prefectures that were affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake will be framed and mounted on the monuments by Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai) students, and displayed at venues during the Games.

After the Games, the monuments will be displayed in the respective prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. With the final work of the monument production taking place in September 2020, as the message plates were mounted, students involved shared their thoughts and feelings.

The monuments will link the affected areas with the world

The monuments, each measuring over 2m, are being constructed using recycled aluminum from windows and frames initially made for temporary housing units set up in the affected areas following the disaster. Students attending middle and high schools in the three Tohoku prefectures wrote messages of hope and well-wishes on the plates including “thank you” and “let’s overcome this together”.

Messages from athletes will be added to the monuments, which ultimately will be preserved in the Tohoku region as a legacy of the Games.

Recovery Monuments

Two ‘diamond’ monuments, one for Iwate and one for Miyagi, and one ‘face-in-the-hole’ monument for Fukushima were created. Geidai students submitted several designs, and in the summer of 2019 a workshop was organised in the three Tohoku prefectures where middle and high school students voted to determine which design would represent their prefectures.

The designs selected were submitted by OKA Tsukushi and FUKUI Shione, who are both seniors at Geidai. Oka designed the ‘face-in-the-hole’ monument, and Fukui the ‘diamond’ monument.

“It was an emotional experience for me to take part in such an important project for the first time in my life,” Oka said.

“It wasn’t an easy task, but I finally finished it,” Fukui added.

The thoughts that went into each design

The ‘face-in-the-hole’ design by Oka has a section in the middle of the upper portion of the monument where people can put their face through. The idea came from other face-in-the-hole boards often seen at tourist destinations around the world.

“It’s like I can be someone else, become united with the character on the board, and that’s what is so great about it,” Oka said. “I hope everyone can sympathise with the messages of encouragement mounted on the monument and will unite to support the athletes as well as the disaster-stricken communities.”

OKA Tsukushi and her ‘face-in-the-hole’ design
OKA Tsukushi and her ‘face-in-the-hole’ design

When Fukui initially imagined creating a monument with many surfaces, she instantly thought of a diamond. She also wanted the messages on the monument “to shine like a diamond, attracting everyone’s attention”. Her concept and design were chosen by students from Iwate and Miyagi.

“I was surprised. When my design was chosen by one prefecture, I was very pleased. But when another prefecture also chose my design, I was really surprised. To know that so many students voted for my design makes me feel determined to see this through till the end,” she said.

FUKUI Shione and her ‘diamond’ design
FUKUI Shione and her ‘diamond’ design

At the beginning, the original designs of the monuments that had been drawn at the workshop were not the same as the three-dimensional object built. Both Oka and Fukui felt that taking the designs from two-dimensional models to three-dimensional monuments was the most difficult process.

“The image on paper and the three-dimensional object were not the same. It took a lot of effort to bring the two closer,” Fukui said as she reflected on the difficulty of bringing the original design to life.

Faced with the challenge, Oka tried to use her imagination to find the best solution.

“I tried to imagine people taking pictures of the monument. Every time I stuck my face through a photo stand-in, I tried to think of what I could improve,” said Oka.

The workshop held in Fukushima in 2019
The workshop held in Fukushima in 2019

The visit to the three Tohoku prefectures was an unforgettable experience

The workshops held in the three Tohoku prefectures became a turning point in the production process. During the workshops, visits were arranged at the art museum in Kesen-numa, which displayed objects found after the earthquake and tsunami, and to the apartment building in Rikuzen-takata that was damaged. Fukui said that meeting people who were affected by the disaster and learning how they feel really changed her.

“Before I made my first visit to Tohoku, I knew that many people were affected by the huge earthquake, but I couldn’t really relate to it and felt I wasn’t part of it. However, actually being there and meeting many people made me feel closer to them. My desire to help them in some way by creating this monument became stronger and stronger.”

Oka was especially impressed by the middle and high school students at the workshop.

“When I saw them in serious discussion about the details of the shapes and patterns, I felt that they were really grateful and wanted to express their gratitude. During the production of the monument, I always picture their faces and remember what we talked about.”

Students attaching the message plates on the monument.
Students attaching the message plates on the monument.

The monument displayed at the Games: A lifelong memory

Oka and Fukui are both seniors at Geidai and will be graduating in the spring of 2021. However, by the time the Tokyo 2020 Games take place, they will not be students anymore.

“The project is going to be the highlight of my Geidai years, and it will be noticed by people around the world. I’m really honoured that I took part. It will serve as a lifelong memory,” Oka said.

Fukui said that she feels slightly nervous when she thinks of the monument being displayed and the pressure of creating a lasting legacy.

“As time goes by, memories of the disaster may slowly disappear. That is why it’s important that the monument serves as a reminder of the pain and difficulties the people experienced.”

In the summer of 2021, the Tokyo 2020 Recovery Monuments will go on display to the world.