"Kiyari-uta" (log-carriers' chant) is a work song that loggers sing while using ropes to drag trees they felled. Loggers treat trees with awe and affection. I once heard a logger say, "We don’t use the expression 'to cut or knock down' a tree. We say to 'put a tree to rest.' " The words show their kindness.
The words "cut down" do not seem appropriate either in the case of the "miracle" lone pine that stood on the beach at Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture. The lone pine miraculously remained standing even though the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake toppled tens of thousands of pine trees there.
It was a source of encouragement for survivors, but the miracle pine eventually died because its roots had been exposed to too much briny seawater. Many people came to pay their respects and watched it being "put to rest." Some people put their hands together in prayer.
We call the spirit of trees "kodama," which also means echo. Apparently, people in ancient times heard echoes of their own voices as answers from the spirit of trees. Since that awful day of March 11, 2011, the lone pine kept delivering silent words of hope to people overwhelmed by tragedy.
Some of its 70,000 fellow Rikuzentakata pines that were knocked down have also been transformed into various objects by kindhearted people. They were given new lives as statues of Buddha, nameplates and violins. Some started counting the hours, minutes and seconds as clocks.
Next year, the lone pine is expected to stand on the stricken area once again as a "commemorative tree." Although it is no longer alive, I believe it will grow its branches from the roots in people’s hearts and shed light on the reconstruction of their home towns.
Is it right to cut down the tree and preserve it like a "stuffed specimen?" The process is expensive. I have heard some people express such doubts and criticism. But a senior citizen living in temporary housing told The Asahi Shimbun: "That is unmistakably the lone pine of hope."
Although I am an outsider, I am all for those words. The lone pine is also a symbol that will keep alive the memories of the disaster that befell northeastern Japan on that fateful day in March 2011.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 13
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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