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Saving History From The Recycle Bin

Could be relations of a historic figure or possibly your family

by Hiroshi Eto,

Following the death of his mother, a distant cousin of mine discovered very old photos; some had been sent long ago from Japan to his parents. He scanned the photos and sent them out while some were within my father’s memory to explain. (In our case, some were taken in Peru as well as Japan.) Others were before his time (photo enclosed). Before his death, my father began sorting through his own photo albums and making annotations on those he could, but some were left in a box of unknowns.

The Seattle-Tacoma Fukuoka Kenjinkai (Fukuoka Prefecture descendants club) recently hosted our prefecture representatives from Japan, I asked if they had any offices involved with prefecture history or city history that might be interested in getting photos of old Japan left to survivors here who have no recollection of who or what is portrayed in the photos. Certainly many of the photos had accompanied long lost letters explaining who or what was portrayed. Many clearly are photos of people or events in Japan.

As you can imagine, they were reluctant to offer an opening for such an endeavor. Their staff is limited and can hardly keep up with collecting and providing information to all twenty kenjinkais in nine countries for local events like our Cherry Blossom Festival,
Japan Fair and Japan Week. They likely foresaw how this could open the door to a flood of photos from all around the globe. They did respectfully endorse the notion of families wanting to preserve their histories. That said, a picture that nobody recognizes is just a picture unless someone realizes why or who the photographer wanted to preserve it for relatives and friends. In addition, if it’s a photo of an event in Japan, it’s really not our history at all. Some of the photos of the unknowns seem to show the aftermath of local disasters in Japan.

I thought sharing this discussion might lead to a reader recommending a solution. It’s hard to believe that a prefecture as large as Fukuoka has no historical societies (Our community of Federal Way has one.) Certainly they have city offices that have historic photos lining their walls. Perhaps if we preserve a digital photo archive of unknowns from our ancestral homelands we could have amateur and professional historians visit us from Japan to shed light on some of the photos. It would be great
if they found it to be a treasure trove of historic photos from our collective boxes of unknowns and albums fated for the recycle bin.

Hiroshi Eto lives in Federal Way, WA and is a member of the Fukuoka-Kenjinkai.