Reconstructing Matsushima Bay after the tsunami

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BANGKOK (eTN) – Located north of Sendai, Matsushima Bay is known for its beautiful scenery and as one of the “three most scenic spots in Japan.” Over 260 splendid islands are spread all around Matsushima Bay. The islets are covered by pine trees (Matsu). According to the season and the view point, landscapes are constantly evolving, revealing new shapes and perspectives. Matsushima Bay has been a source of inspiration for Japanese poets, writers, and painters for centuries.

An historical highlight is Zuigan-ji Temple, a magnificent example of ancient 17th century Japanese architecture. However, the terrible tsunami on March 11 also had a devastating effect on historical structures as the epicenter of the earthquake was east of Matsushima. Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs reported that the officially designated “Special Place of Scenic Beauty” was seriously damaged. Destruction reached the islands, as well as the two coastal villages of Shichigahama and Shiogama.

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Matsushima was unfortunately not the only treasure affected. The Agency for Cultural Affairs published a list of 353 national treasures that were hit by the tsunami. In total, Japan’s National Police Agency estimated in early April that 190,000 buildings had been damaged or destroyed due to the earthquake and tsunami.

Overlooking the Bay, Zyugan-Ji Temple was considered as the perfect man-made balance to Matsushima’s nature. The temple was built in the 9th century and reconstructed in the 17th century by Date Masamune, the first Shogun in Tokugawa and the creator of Senai city. Skilled craftsmen worked on lumber and created the main building structure in 1609 built from lumber with walls covered by gold.

The temple sustained major damage. According to the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs, the earthquake caused some cracks in the walls. Pines surrounding the main alley to the temple were completely wisked away by waters, and an old tea house was fully destroyed. With the city of Matsushia being washed away by a 15-meter tsunami wave, some 300 tourists were evacuated to Zyugan-Ji Temple. All tourists were welcomed by monks living within the temple’s compounds. They were given food and shelter for a couple of days. As a sign of gratitude, tourists have since helped with cleaning the temple area. Renovation of the temple’s compounds started in 2009 and was due to be completed by 2016. However, it might now take far more time to get it back to its original shape as one of Japan’s most famous zen sites.

In Matsushima city, inhabitants hope that life will slowly get back to normal by early May, once all damage has been cleaned. Prior to the tsunami, the city was populated with 15,000 inhabitants and was one of the most visited tourist areas. According to data from 2007, Miyagi Prefecture – where Matsushima Bay is located – recorded 710,000 foreign arrivals. Over 50% of all overnights were from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.