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Noted: Saving Japan’s Photographs

Mar 15, 2012

by Chappell Ellison handmade and vintage goods

It’s been a year since the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, a crippling disaster marked last week by memorial services, prayers and monuments. Many Japanese families lit paper lanterns and sent them out to sea in remembrance of those lost, reflecting on the homes and memories taken by the ocean.

To bring some sense of comfort to the bereaved, Satoko Kinno scours the rubble of her town for photographs. Once they are cleaned and put in the freezer to stem mold, the photographs are displayed at a local community center, where families are ecstatic to rediscover their memories. With seven other city employees, Kinno returns the photographs to their overjoyed owners. “They’re crying and screaming, because they are very, very happy they found their stuff and their memories. It’s the most important thing,” says Kinno.

Watching the short video created by CBS This Morning, the most touching moment occurs when the reporter asks Kinno if restoring the photographs is an emotional process. Kinno begins to cry, saying that every time she cleans a photograph, it says to her, “Send me home.” Fortunately, for the photographs of Japan, Kinno is an excellent travel guide, volunteering her time to ensure that families receive their photographs, which are often the only remaining memories of loved ones whose lives were lost. A year after that horrible day, it’s stories like these that make the rest of us proud to share the same planet with such an enduring, hopeful nation.

More Japan Posts | Shop Local: Japan


  • DecadesOfVintage

    DecadesOfVintage from DecadesOfVintage said 7 years ago

    what a beautiful body of work to find and display people's photos. It is like shining a beacon on the joys of earlier lilfe and in its own way reminding people that life is good. thanks for this touching piece.

  • nomadcraftsetc

    Janelle and Jason Ethridge from NomadCraftsEtc said 7 years ago

    Beautiful Beautiful Beautiful It is a story like this that makes me relize how important pictures are and how I should bring my camera with me and my family everywhere-snap snap snap. Beautiful article! Thank you for sharing!

  • myvintagecrush

    Kathleen from myvintagecrush said 7 years ago

    Ms. Kimmo is such a beautiful person, and Japan is a nation of such strong people. This was an excellent post :) we love you Japan!!

  • PattiTrostle

    Patti Trostle from PattiTrostle said 7 years ago

    As said above, photo's are so important to preserve memories. I think we take it for granted as we experience life that we will always remember that moment. Photo's are our wonderful reminders when we don't.

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 7 years ago

    Very inspiring!!!

  • AlisaDesign

    Alisa from AlisaDesign said 7 years ago


  • MishaGirl

    Michelle from MishaGirl said 7 years ago

    Very touching!

  • FocusGroupFoto

    Kerry Halasz from SybilMaxine said 7 years ago

    She's helping people heal a little bit with her amazing work. Thanks for sharing this.

  • WingedWorld

    Vickie Moore from WingedWorld said 7 years ago

    Thanks for the thoughtful article. It's terrible to think of losing a loved one and then not even having photos to remember the person.

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 7 years ago

    Amazing, its that 'what would you save from the fire' coming through again. I think photographs are something that I would save, they really are our history and memories.

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 7 years ago

    Interesting! I love Japan!

  • TheBakersDaughter

    Nancy Andrews from TheBakersDaughter said 7 years ago

    That's a marvelous thing she's doing.....well done.

  • baleandtwine

    Bale and Twine from baleandtwine said 7 years ago

    what a thoughtful, embracing and heart wrenching story, thank goodness for people like Kinno

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 7 years ago

    OK, now usually I'm as hard as nails when it comes to tear-jerking news stories, but this really did make me cry. What a fabulous person Kinno is & my heart goes out to the Japanese people trying to rebuild their lives. Where I live we don't have earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes or anything that is capable of cutting swathes through the landscape & wiping out multitudes of homes. I just can't imagine what it must be like to have to deal with a post-apocalyptic landscape like that & I think the people have shown amazing courage, strength & fortitude.

  • volkerwandering

    Jess from volkerwandering said 7 years ago

    I am so happy that they were able to recover photographs. Pictures are can not be replaced. They allow you to go back in time!

  • redhardwick

    Jen Hardwick from redhardwick said 7 years ago

    Wonderful story. I can't imagine going through all of that and losing so much! It's comforting to know that there are still good people in this world who want to help and not profit from other people's tragedies.

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm from baconsquarefarm said 7 years ago

    Wonderful story of love for fellow man by saving these photos and displaying them in a community center.

  • SubaqueousPress

    Michelle Cornelison from SubaqueousPress said 7 years ago

    Such an incredible story. I'm studying right now to eventually do art conservation (which includes restoration and repair). What a beautiful way for her to use her skill.

  • AlternativeBlooms

    Alternative Blooms from AlternativeBlooms said 7 years ago

    AMAZING, Memories are so precious and when they fade it is photos which will remind us. Any wedding photographer will tell you that but more so will the family of an Alzheimer sufferer. My Dad no longer knows who the man in the mirror but he can still recall the Old day's. They only way he can know us is through photos. They are treasures worth more then a millions words! Have you hugged a photographer today? -AB

  • AquaBonsai

    Rick Lowe from AquaBonsai said 7 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this...really powerful story.

  • PalomaAccessories

    Kelly from PalomaAccessories said 7 years ago

    Photos are treasures!

  • HouseOfMoss

    Alison Comfort from HouseOfMoss said 7 years ago

    What a simple, beautiful idea.

  • CandyAppleCrafts

    CandyAppleCrafts from CandyAppleCrafts said 7 years ago

    I find this very touching and approve of the work she's doing. A few years ago, my part of the world was hit by an F5 tornado that stayed on the ground for several hours. It wiped out whole cities. Someone in the area started a project like that, and it helped thousands of people reclaim their lost memories. An acquaintance of mine lost her home, but found the family photos in a buffet that got left behind by the tornado. She cried for joy! You have no idea how much photos mean until you think you will never see them again! It is as if the disaster stole the past as well as the present. Thank you for sharing this.

  • flintandspark

    Amy from flintandspark said 7 years ago

    I love this idea - so touching!

  • loralyn1

    Laura King from LoralynDesigns said 7 years ago

    It is stories like this that really help put our day to day worries into perspective. Thank you!

  • thevicagirl

    VaLon Frandsen from thevicagirl said 7 years ago

    That is so cool.

  • shaydawindle

    shaydakw from VintageDandelions said 7 years ago

    thanks for this story - it's easy to forget about tragedies like these when life gets hectic. very touching

  • VoleedeMoineaux

    Hillary De Moineaux from VoleedeMoineaux said 7 years ago

    So frekin cool!

  • oddlyaddictive

    cait lucas from inkkit said 7 years ago

    Wow touching story.

  • alexibon

    Alexia Alexia from IdyllWyse said 7 years ago

    Very moving -- thanks for remembering and sharing.

  • AnnaBear200

    Anna Woehling from JewelsByAnna said 7 years ago


  • KaiceJoy

    Kirsti Joy from KaiceJoy said 7 years ago

    Thank you for the lovely story....very touching~

  • megk8199

    Megan Morris from MadebyMegShop said 7 years ago

    Thanks, Etsy Blog, for making me cry in my cubicle. What a wonderful thing to, Kinno is truly a beautiful soul. Thank you for showing me that they still exist in this sometimes bleak world.

  • dottywalker

    Dotty Walker from SewThoughtfulBlanket said 7 years ago

    So amazing!

  • christmasangel

    christmasangel from christmasangel said 7 years ago

    Thank you so kindly for including my photos and writing about a subject that is so touching, pass the tissues please. Well done!

  • TrudysPaintedLadies

    Trudy Hylant from TrudysPaintedLadies said 7 years ago

    Beautiufl touching story.. christmasangel your photos are amazing..

  • Guchokipa

    Tiffany Key from Guchokipa said 7 years ago

    There have been so many heartwarming stories shared recently with the anniversary of 3/11. I am happy that the rest of the world is getting a deeper insight into the true beauty of my adopted country: the people. It is said that people are Japan's only true national resource and I believe that is the truth. In my daily life, I constantly encounter kind and compassionate folk like Kinno-san. Perhaps it stems from living so close to each other but in general Japanese society is more akin to being members of a large family. The words used for strangers are family terms like aunt, uncle, or granny. I would venture to say that Kinno-san is doing acting like a good auntie when she helps her "relatives" reclaim their precious photographs.

  • ClaudiaLord

    Claudia Lord from ClaudiaLord said 7 years ago

    What a wonderful project.

  • elleestpetite

    Donna Thai from PetiteCuisine said 7 years ago

    That's so wonderful what's she's doing for all those people.

  • PopLoveCouture

    Shai Wallach from PopLoveCouture said 7 years ago

    What an incredible cause. My wife's parents went through a more local tragedy a couple years back - their house burned down. They got out of it very luckily; no one was hurt, and although they lost a lot of things, the family heirlooms survived - antiques passed down and photographs. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to really put things in perspective, and it is absolutely amazing that families are being brought together to create an even stronger sense of community and support.

  • Sarious101

    Sarah Lust from HoppingTheFence said 7 years ago

    Very touching story. Thank you for sharing. My family lived in Japan a short while when I was very young. What a beautiful place. It is so nice to see something so small mean so much.

  • ImmortalPomegranate

    Melanie Cuno from ImmortalPomegranate said 7 years ago

    That is wonderful. What a tragedy.

  • lizworthy

    Liz Worthy from lizworthy said 7 years ago

    Such a beautiful project! Does anyone know of similar projects following other natural disasters?

  • gypsumrose

    Levi Emerson from gypsumrose said 7 years ago

    gorgeous story, i'm glad to know this is happening, brings some hope and brightness to rough days <3

  • karanchananam1

    karan chanana.m said 7 years ago

    shallow brooks are noisy.

  • karanchananam1

    karan chanana.m said 7 years ago

    shallow brooks are noisy. karan chanana-amira

  • uswatsons

    Sylvie Liv from SylvieLiv said 7 years ago

    How very sweet. Its so nice to hear about people who are spending their days working to help others. Thank you for the story!

  • EnterpriseAmericana

    Enterprise Americana from EnterpriseAmericana said 7 years ago

    Important work.

  • DiscordVintage

    Discord Vintage from DiscordVintage said 7 years ago

    What a wonderful and inspiring idea.

  • OnlyOriginalsByAJ

    AJ Marsden from OnlyOriginalsByAJ said 7 years ago

    What an interesting idea!

  • madebymirjam

    Mirjam from madebymirjam said 7 years ago

    like it.

  • AudreyKerchnerPhotog

    Aud Kerchner from AudreyKerchnerstudio said 7 years ago

    Amazing story. some times its the small things that mean so much. I just recently rescued my own family photos from my sisters garage. Both my parents are gone and we lost my brother when we were young so these pictures mean so much to me. Im glad Im not the only one out there finding images of our past to be worthy of saving.

  • AMSkrafts

    AMSkrafts from AMSkrafts said 7 years ago

    Beautiful story, I am so happy to hear such people so generous of their time and skill to help others. Memories are precious, and photographs are crucial to helping the memory remember loved ones.

  • ZenBrush

    ZenBrush from ZenBrush said 7 years ago

    very moving story

  • EastThomasLee

    Lee Thomas from EastThomasLee said 7 years ago

    I love Japan

  • shreyasi22sharma

    Shreyasi Sharma from ShreyasiSharma said 7 years ago

    Bravo Kinno San for your efforts! I have a great deal of respect for the Japanese, how they build back and rise again after massive earthquakes and destructive tsunamis. And recovering lost photos of loved ones means so much! I know because i hate to lose even a blurry photo of a loved one!

  • thegoodpress

    Ryan Miglinczy from thegoodpress said 7 years ago

    very uplifting

  • sandboxcastle

    H Wang from sandboxcastle said 7 years ago

    Mmm yeah although I have huge backlogs of photos I never do anything with- i'd be devastated if I lost them all. Finding and returning them - This is a "small" think that has a huge effect on how a person feels. thank you!

  • yqsl66

    Ada Ada from idajewelry66 said 7 years ago

    Interesting! like it.

  • GunnyIsmybestfriend

    Jason McLeod from GunnyIsmybestfriend said 6 years ago

    I have a university thesis project going on at the moment. There are similar themes present. I am collecting stories of home. Have a look, maybe you would like to be part of the discussion.

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