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Unknown Spring is a hybrid of digital storytelling: it has the URL of a website, the structure of a book with chapters, the interactivity of a web platform, and features text, audio, video, photos. Users can virtually walk through the city of Yuriage, north of Tokyo, which was devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Galleries of geolocated images taken since the disaster dot the map, allowing comparisons to be made between damaged areas and their reconstruction.

Unknown Spring offers an immersive exploration of the city, its people, its culture, and its gradual return to life. For the past year, Jake Price has compiled an online anthology that captures the gravity of the situation through a “stream of consciousness.” Like Yoknapatawpha County in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, the village of Yuriage has lost its foundations, and Price will continue with the project until the rhythms of daily life are restored.

There is something deeply Japanese in this altruistic and meditative approach to memory, in the personification of the tsunami, in the philosophy that Jake Price sums up in one sentence: “We gravitate towards what makes sense to us.” Each chapter tells the story of an encounter, a step towards the reconstruction of the village. Everything is poetry, visual and human poetry, in the photographs of families restored by volunteers, in the accounts of the first purchases made after the tsunami, in the traditional celebrations, in the unwavering resilience of the farmers, in the love for this land, for this country.

In one chapter, the seagulls join the creaking swing-sets and the springtime breeze to sing an ode to nature and rebirth. Music plays an important role in Japanese culture, and the site allows users to donate musical instruments.

Laurence Cornet