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Images, Tweets, and Survivor Stories from the 2011 East Japan Earthquake

The East Japan Earthquake Archive is a digital archive representing the damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Photographs from newspapers, tsunami survivers’ testimonies, TV footage, and tweets are plotted on Cesium’s 3D map. Users can browse all of the data dynamically from a bird’s-eye view and an on-the-ground view. This archive was made using the same method as that of the Hiroshima Archive and Nagasaki Archive, also created by Hidenori Watanave of Tokyo Metropolitan University.

The archive allows users to explore multiple data layers, including newspaper photographs, survivor testimonies, and tweets related to the earthquake, all plotted by location.

Taking 172 photographs from newspapers, Professor Watanave and his production team estimated and specified camera parameters for each and reproduced the function of KML photo overlay in Cesium. When a user clicks a picture icon, a camera moves and the photography angle is reproduced. Through this function, users can better understand the context and feel the reality of pictures about the disaster. 

Also included in the archive are tsunami survivors’ testimonies collected by Asahi Shimbun Newspaper (not yet translated into English) and student volunteers. Also, some testimonies in Minami Sanriku-cho, Miyagi prefecture were recorded binaurally allowing the spatial sound environment of the disaster area to be reproduced using headphones.

While a testimony is a recollection of a survivor’s memory in the past, a tweet is a record of feelings at the moment of a disaster, making tweets the new form of disaster testimonies in the age of big data. The archive contains 4,214 Japanese tweets published within 24 hours of the earthquake (without mentions and bots’ tweets). The data in this layer is the result of the Great East Japan Earthquake Big Data Workshop: Project 311.

All data was collected in cooperation with nationwide volunteers and local university students. The main goal was to develop a community of memories that would enable users to participate in the archives as creators and grow a collection of archives on their own. The archive is a platform to gather threads of stories for the future by sharing past memories and present messages in both physical and web spaces.

Originally published using the Google Earth API, in 2015 the East Japan Earthquake Archive was converted to Cesium. The archive earned an honorary mention by Prix Ars Electronica 2013.