Japan tsunami seriously damaged Matsushima cultural site


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Partly because of its deep Shinto and Buddhist roots, Japanese culture exhibits a distinctive aesthetic relationship to nature. Rather than an assembly of individual parts seen and experienced in isolation, nature is a dynamic whole witnessed in constant flux. Change is the only permanence.

Traumatic change obviously came in the form of the recent Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The death toll is mounting. In the region of Matsushima, just up the coast from the hard-hit city of Sendai, upwards of 22,000 have been reported dead or missing from the devastating March 11 tsunami.


Matsushima also suffered another awful blow. Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs reports serious damage to the prized landscape of the region, which includes the coastal villages of Shichigahama and Shiogama and the islands in its bay. Matsushima is among 353 national treasures, important cultural properties and other artistic monuments battered by the disaster. (A full list distributed by the cultural agency is here.) The offshore epicenter of the 9.0 quake was east of Matsushima.

Officially designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, in keeping with the nation’s practice of identifying aesthetic marvels in the natural world, Matsushima’s bay is home to a rocky cluster of more than 260 small islands dotted with pines. In a late-19th century woodblock print, Meiji-era artist Yoshu Chikanobu (1838–1912) compared the celebrated view to a beautiful woman. Photographs of the islands, including several of its most distinctive features, can be found on Wikipedia. This 2009 tourist video-tour of the bay, its coastline and several islands gives some idea of why the Japanese regard the site as aesthetically important:


Elizabeth Taylor in Iran, as photographed by Firooz Zahedi

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— Christopher Knight