Waves at Matsushima

Since ancient times the Bay of Matsushima on the Pacific coast of Japan has been celebrated for its natural beauty. Located at the northern end of Miyagi Prefecture, the coastline curves eastward to form a sheltered bay dotted with more than 260 small picturesque islands covered with pine trees. Literally known as “pine islands,” Matsushima is considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful sites. For centuries poets and artists have journeyed to Matsushima, where they are inspired to interpret the breathtaking landscape in words and images.

On March 11, 2011, an underwater earthquake of 9.0 magnitude, the most powerful known quake to hit Japan, and a subsequent tsunami with waves ranging from thirty to over one hundred feet in height devastated this region. More than fifteen thousand local residents lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands more lost their homes, their belongings, and their ways of life. The widespread devastation and massive disruption of society have profoundly affected the people and landscape of Japan.

Despite its proximity to the epicenter, Matsushima is one of the few places along the Sanriku coast that remained largely intact. Most severely stricken were the areas of Sendai, located to the south of Matsushima, and Rikuzentakata to the north. The islands that stud the natural shelter of the bay acted as a buffer and apparently lessened the full impact of the tsunami’s fury. Zuiganji, the Buddhist temple complex at Matsushima, and much of the surrounding landscape survived. Fishing boats were destroyed and oyster beds were damaged, but locals maintain Matsushima protected their lives.

These views of Matsushima not only record the islands’ former appearance, but they also pay homage to Japan, its history and its art, and the resilience of its people and land.

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