RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate Pref. — The coast of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, used to be lined with some 70,000 pine trees. Now almost all have disappeared, swept away by the tsunami triggered by last March’s devastating earthquake.
Saplings: Takako Niinuma (left) is seen at the age of 5 among young pine trees on the coast of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, in 1942. The trees grew into a famed pine forest until they were wiped out in the March 11 tsunami. TAKAKO NIINUMA/KYODO
Even the sole surviving “miracle” pine tree subsequently rotted after being damaged by the seawater deluge.
Now some local citizens are trying to restore the pine woods that used to grace the tsunami-ravaged coast. They are doing so both to revive the beauty of the coastline — and in memory of friends and loved ones killed in the disaster.
One of the local residents is Takako Niinuma, 74, who had enjoyed strolling through the woods since she was a child.
“I used to play on a swing that was hung from a branch of a pine tree and gathered pine cones,” Niinuma said.
She was stunned by the loss of the trees, but remembered she had collected about 600 pine cones from the woods before the disaster to use to make wreaths, her hobby.
Wondering what could be done about the loss of the forest, Niinuma now had an idea. She let the cones dry in the sun, then collected the seeds that fell from them and contacted the Society for the Preservation of the Takata Pine Tree Woods (Takata Matsubara wo Mamoru Kai) to donate the seeds.
The seeds were subsequently sent to a nursery at a forest research center in the Iwate village of Takizawa, and had grown into 10-cm-high seedlings by last July when Niinuma visited there.
Niinuma is working to restore the woods in memory of seven friends from her junior high school years who died in the disaster. One of them, Seiko Yoshida, used to head the conservation group. He was 73 when he died.
“I want somehow to ensure the survival of the pine woods,” she said, adding it would have been what Yoshida wanted.
She is also making wreaths with pine cones in memory of her lost friends.