Friday the 11th of March shook the world in a way that has never been felt before. An 8.9 earthquake begun a chain of natural disasters that, I feel, made many of us evaluate our real impact on earth, and conclude that we might be, after all, pretty insignificant.
I personally, have never felt so small and at the same time so empowered. In the face of adversity the resilience of the people of Japan taught me to never give up. The human stories behind each image continue to inspire me even to this day.
Not many foreigners adventure themselves to the areas that had been affected. They are not, to the west, as well-known as Kyoto, Tokyo of Hiroshima. However, particularly for architects, Sendai reached global status through the work of Toyo Ito the reputed Japanese architect, who designed the city´s ground breaking Mediatheque.
In the autumn of 2010 I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel north. My father in law turned 77, and as this is a very important birthday as far as Japanese tradition is concerned, we travelled home, to the outskirts of Tokyo, to celebrate. After a weekend of celebrations, we decided to explore the lands of the north for a few days.
We took a train to Sakata, where the beer fed beef steaks (now famous trade mark of Kobe) were first introduced. From Sakata we went to Sendai (where cow tongue is the local delicacy), and from Sendai to Matsushima, via Shiogama, where the oyster season had just begun. It was a lovely short break that kept us and our taste-spuds busy!
I have so many fond memories from a wonderful part of the country that when I watched the news and saw this extended nothingness that nature has left behind, I made my mission to show people the beauty hidden behind the chaos. The Tohoku area is going through extensive regeneration and progress has been made, however, in truth, tourism would be a good way to help. So here I am, ready to sing praises to some of my favourite places in the area…Starting with Shiogama
One of the things I love most about Japan is that you may spend your whole life without a car and still feel that the world is at your feet. The railway system is so complete that you can reach small, medium and large towns without the need for a car. Spain, where I come from, is very different. People are so used to drive that you would never contemplate not taking your driving test as soon as you were 18.
As a foreigner there is a rail pass that you can purchase in advance to arriving that will allow you to travel through out the Japanese geography in lovely clean efficient trains and discover places such as Shiogama.
Shiogama, mainly a fishing town, has traditionally drawn in Japanese tourists from other areas, and even Chinese ones as we saw during our visit, by means of their wonderful shrine, on the top of the hill, and their Matsushima archipelago tours.
Strangely, it did remind me of our journey through the Norwegian fiords, only with a more colourful guide who put a smile on the faces of tourists telling cheeky local stories and describing in rather a lot of detail the process of erosion that the smaller islands had gone through in the last century.
On the top of the Ichiro yama (mountain Ichiro), and with a wonderful view of the Matsushima bay beyond the roof line of the town of Shiogama, this shrine was built in the beginning of the 17 hundreds.
When compared to others, it has a layout that combines main halls and prayer rooms in a very unique way .
The variety of trees in the surrounding forest makes the visit special any time of the year. I was lucky to see the autumn light and it was beautiful. But, as it happens in most of Japan, spring is particularly special as the local Shiogamazuka (special type of cherry tree which blossoms have more than 5 petals) attracts visitors every year in early May.
Photography by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate
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