Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rikuzentakata's 'Tree of Hope:' and a Philosophizing Lemming

"Lone pine tree symbol of hope in Japan tsunami city"
Shingo Ito, AFP (April 2, 2011)

"The forest of black and red pine trees is gone, scattered like matchsticks"
(from AFP, used w/o permission)

"A lone pine tree stands on the shore of a tsunami-wrecked Japanese city, a symbol of hope and defiance for people who have lost everything.

"The tree was one of 70,000 in a forest that had protected the city of Rikuzentakata from ocean winds for more than 300 years.

"Large parts of the city now lie in ruins, with only the shells of a few concrete buildings left standing. Ten percent of the city's population is dead or missing

"The forest of black and red pine trees is also gone, scattered like matchsticks across this once-pretty resort by the enormous power of the March 11 tsunami -- except for this single tree, whose survival is counted as a 'miracle' by those whose homes have now vanished.

" 'Since it was the only tree left intact, it will become a symbol of restoration,' said 23-year-old Eri Kamaishi, as she stood in the shadow of the tree now known locally as the 'pine of hope'.

"The tree is one of the few landmarks left to show where Rikuzentakata once stood, said Kamaishi.

" 'I can't even remember exactly what the city looked like because it has so completely gone,' she said.

"Resin oozes from a scar on the trunk of the tree, where the lower branches were ripped off by the power of the waves, but a thick spray of green pine needles at the top of the 10-metre (33-foot) tree shows it is very much still alive....

"...The history of the pine forest can be traced back to the 17th century, when a wealthy merchant began planting trees as a windbreaker to protect residents from storms.

"The beach, which sits at the mouth of a bay, drew around 200,000 visitors a year and was listed in guide books as one of the 100 most scenic places in Japan.

" 'For us, the pine trees are very special' because of the protection they offered to local people, said Yasuo Murakami, 69.

"He said he hoped the tree would encourage survivors and heal the broken hearts of those who have lost their loved ones. Murakami's wife and sister were found dead and his six-year-old grandchild is still missing....

"...Around 1,000 people [in Rikuzentakata] are known to have died, with 1,300 still missing. Many thousands are living in evacuation centres. Heaps of debris across a vast area of the city remain almost untouched...."

It's taken about two weeks, but news of the Rikuzentakata 'tree of hope' has reached an American news outlet. The Lemming will be back after this excerpt from CNN, with an opinion or two.
"Single pine tree a sign of hope amid devastation in Japanese city"
Brian Walker, CNN World (April 16, 2011)

"More than a month after Japan's killer tsunami struck, there's not much standing in Rikuzentakata, and even fewer things still alive.

"But across a shattered bridge and among the scattered concrete shells and piles of debris, there's a surprising sight along the tsunami-battered coast -- a single towering pine tree.

"It's the last surviving one in what was once a sprawling grove of more than 70,000 that towered above the white sandy shore and made it a popular tourist destination....

"...But they were no protection from the March 11 tsunami waves, which reached more than 10-meters high and washed several kilometers inland.

"At least 10% of the 23,000 people who once called the town home are dead or missing, says the town's mayor, Futoshi Toba.

"There are huge logs now piled up along the shore, while tree trunks litter the coast, many snapped in half by the waves.

"Those trees that once protected the city instead added to the destruction.

"Residents in a crowded local shelter recall seeing the giant trees cracking off and sweeping like battering rams through the town.

"Now the people of the town see the last pine as a symbol of hope and renewal.

"But first they have to save it.

"Salt water, oil and chemicals have soaked into the earth all around its roots.

"Its lower branches have all been torn off, and it is oozing sap but still holding on to the pine needles and cones some 40 feet up.

"The town leaders have begun to plan for keeping it alive. They are monitoring its health and even considering digging up the soil surrounding it and replacing it with fresh dirt...."

Apart from a few celebrities saying daft things (March 15, 2011), there's been - in the Lemming's opinion - remarkably little public comment about how the March 11, 2011, earthquake was Japan's fault.

The Lemming has, however, seen quite a bit written about how nuclear power is a bad thing. And that's almost another topic.

About that pine tree, the folks in Rikuzentakata, and getting a grip, the Lemming opines:
  • Was the earthquake Japan's fault?
    • No
  • Should TEPCO's Fukushima power plant be rebuilt?
    • Probably not
      • But that's not the Lemming's decision to make
  • Is nuclear power safe?
    • Of course not
  • Is any technology safe?
    • No
    • People have been killed by
      • Fire
      • Sharp sticks
  • Should nuclear power be banned?
    • In the short term, no
    • In the long term, it's likely to be replaced by other technologies
      • Which will have their own problems
  • Are we all doomed? DOOMED? DOOMED?!!!!
    • The Lemming doesn't think that's likely

Rikuzentakata's Tree, and Hope

The Lemming realizes that bad things happened in Japan last month. Many people died, and many things were broken. That was not good.

But many more folks did not die - and survivors can, in the Lemming's opinion, use symbols like that pine tree as a sort of focusing point. There's a huge amount of work to be done in the northeastern part of Japan - and the Lemming thinks that folks find reconstruction easier when there's some physical thing they can point to as a symbol of what they're trying to achieve.

Maybe keeping that tree alive isn't the most practical thing that folks in Rikuzentakata could do - but the Lemming thinks it's important, anyway.

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