A initiative from Ricoh to salvage, clean, scan and return photographic prints found in the areas devastated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami has reunited over 90,000 images with their rightful owners since it began shortly after the disaster struck. The Save The Memory Project has recovered over 400,000 prints from the rubble of affected areas, has cleaned and scanned them and posted digitized versions on an online system for owners to claim.

The project got underway almost immediately after the waters of the Tsunami had receded, with police, fire crews and soldiers searching for survivors leaving recovered prints and albums at the roadside to be collected by volunteers. The prints were then cleaned and exhibited locally for people to collect.

As the project gained momentum Ricoh gave over a section of one its distribution centers near Sendai to house the project. Since then the project expanded to Ricoh properties in Tokyo and Ebina, and the company provided 518 volunteer staff to help clean the prints, as well as multifunctional scanner/printer machines to digitize images and reprint them on fresh paper.

The project used software that can scan individual images as well as collections taken from damaged albums, with each image and album assigned its own ID number. Images were reprinted with the ID number attached, and the prints returned to Photo Centers close to where the originals were found. These centers were equipped with PCs so visitors could search the web database of digitized images for their own lost pictures, using search terms such as 'wedding photos'. Users could also tag people that they knew with their name, so when that person logged on their images would appear. The system also uses face-recognition software so that once one picture of a person was found others could be identified in the database and suggested.

The project has now ended, but the team has produced extensive information on the process, from the retrieval to the return of pictures that would otherwise have been lost forever. For more information see the Story of the Save the Memory Project webpages.