Rikuzentakata’s Symbol of Hope and Recovery

03/11 — A Day of Remembering and Reflection

The Conveyor Belt

The wind was bitingly cold as I stepped into the taxi for the ride to the entrance to the Miracle Pine Ippon Matsu. Had it been a normal day, I would have stayed inside my hotel room with the heater set at a comfortable 26 degree C. But today was no ordinary day. At exactly 2:48 in the afternoon on this date in March 2011,  the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami destroyed wide swaths of the Tohoku Region of Japan.

The conveyor belt loomed large overhead as I walked toward the Miracle Pine. The belt stretches for 3 kilometres in length from a nearby mountain to its dumping location. The pillars at their highest reach 42 meters in height. The belt transports enough earth each hour from a nearby mountain to  fill 600 ten-ton dump trucks. The earth is being used to raise the level of the former downtown commercial and residential areas by 11 meters. The extra 11 meters in height could minimize the damage to lives and property in the event of another major tsunami.

On the way I climbed the steps to the observation platform built on an elevated mound overlooking the land and coastline undergoing construction. From that height I was able to capture a panoramic view of the conveyor belt. An engineering wonder of mammoth proportions and a testament to the commitment to rebuild.

The Miracle Pine

This was my second trip to the Miracle Pine Ippon Matsu. This time the sun came out from behind the clouds and I was able to shot some clear shots of the tree and its surrounding areas. Media people at first outnumbered the people who came to pay their respects or to take pictures of the tree. Some prayed in front of the tree. I experienced a strange sensation as I heard the warning siren sounding in the distance. It was barely audible as gusts of cold wind blew intermittently forcing me to pull my knit hat tighter over my ears.For one minute people bowed their heads in silent prayer. Out of respect, I stopped taking photos.  Even the workmen on the conveyor belt switched off its motor. A solemn one minute.


The following day while I was waiting for my room to be cleaned, I sat in the hotel lobby at a table with the laptop in front of me. For the longest time, I thought about the events of yesterday. I struggled to put them into words. Sitting at tables nearby was a group of two men and two women guests. I assumed they worked for a news media organization. One man had set down a large professional video camera on the floor next to him.  Yesterday, I observed large numbers of camera operators and news reporters. I envied them for the equipment they were using to capture the news event at 2:48 p.m.

So many cameras and so many media people clustered in groups in different locations — an unusual high level of coverage, I thought, for an event that took no longer than one minute.

Today, the event has become yesterday’s news. A van drove up to the entrance to the hotel. The group hefted their bags and camera and went outside. I watched as they loaded their baggage and equipment and then climbed inside. The van drove off — perhaps taking them to their next assignment.

From the hotel lobby window, I could see the conveyor belt and the dump trucks driving along the main roads.   Construction was proceeding as scheduled. And no doubt many Rikuzentakata residents had woken up earlier in the morning to face yet another day of uncertainty.

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