Monday, July 11, 2011

A Short Trip To Matsushima

"Somewhere, there is someone who has much more less than them, 
who needs ones to share their smile and care, and finding that moment
makes us feel that life is worthwhile."

Amy Poh,
Malaysian volunteer


The third and final day of the ASEAN Youth Caravan of Goodwill started slightly more leisurely than the previous two days. It was our last day together and before heading back to Tokyo, we made a stop at Matsushima, a prized region in the northern region of Honshu island. 

Dr. Surin, the ASEAN Secretary General spent some time riding in the bus with us. After seeing him a couple of times on the previous day, he recognised my face on the third time. The moment he saw me, "Ohh, yea! I know you. You're the tall guy from Malaysia, right?" haha! He spend some fifteen to twenty minutes on each bus to talk and share experiences with the Caravaners, and get feedback on our thoughts about this trip. One of us started singing a Thai song and Dr. Surin was sporting enough to join us lol!

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After more than an hour of bus ride from Sendai, we arrived in Matsushima.

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The green banner reads, "Ganbaro! Matsushima!!", to lift the spirits of the local residents after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami 
that significantly affected this area too.

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Matsushima is listed as one of the Three Views of Japan (日本三景).

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21 July is the "Three Views of Japan Day".

Officially designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, in keeping with the nation's practice of identifying aesthetic marvels in the natural world, the calm and picturesque Matsushima's bay is home to a rocky cluster of more than 260 small islands, large and small, dotted with pines. In a late-19th century woodblock print, Meiji-era artist Yoshu Chikanobu (1838–1912) compared the celebrated view to a beautiful woman.

The view of Matsushima changes from place-to-place and from-season-to-season, and is so beautiful that it is considered one of the three most beautiful sites in Japan. Dotted with small islands covered by black and red pines and grayish white rocks, the views of Matsushima Bay from the four islands of Ogi-ga-tani (扇谷), Tomi-yama (富山), Otaka-mori (大高森), and Tamon-zan (多聞山) are truly spectacular, which is called "Matsushima Shidaikan" (松島四大観), the four grandest views in Matsushima. With its stunning island scenery, the place is frequented by visitors all year round.

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One of the setsumatsusha (摂末社), or small miniature shrines, on the way to a Buddhist temple.

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A magnificent red bridge (すかし橋) that connects the mainland to the temple.

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Amy and Fairus, three of the five Malaysian representatives at the Caravan - plus Ellaine and Azizul (not in the photo).

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Every angle you turn to, you will spot pine trees. That is why they call this place Matsushima; "matsu" (松) means pine and "shima" (島) translates island.

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Godai-dō Temple (五大堂), built in 807 and listed as one of the Important Cultural Properties of Japan (重要文化財). Fortunately, this temple remained unharmed apart from some toppled stone lanterns from the massive quake.

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The current temple was rebuilt in 1604 by Date Masamune (伊達政宗) and considered the oldest Momoyama architecture in the Tohoku region.

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The door of this temple remained closed all the time and only opened once every 33 years. The last time it was opened to the public was in August 2006.

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The three of us again, posing in front of the temple overlooking the beautiful islands.

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The view of some of the islands from Godai-dō Temple.

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Deai-kyō (出会い橋), or the Lover's Bridge connects the mainland to another island - Fukuurajima (福浦島). An interesting anecdote, 
there is a local superstition that crossing the bridge with a girlfriend/boyfriend will cause a breakup.

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Another group picture with some of the ASEAN Caravaners on the red bridge.

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We just couldn't stop taking photos lol! Here's another group photo.

We were given less than two hours to stroll around this place and certainly with that little amount of time, we didn't manage to cover all the tourist attractions in Matsushima. The next stop I made was to Seiryūzan Zuigan-ji (青龍山瑞巌寺), a famous Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple. Due to time constraint, I didn't enter the temple but only went to look around the surroundings.

Zuigan-ji is well known for its beautifully gilded and painted sliding doors or fusuma (襖). This temple is a reflection of the natural beauty of Matsushima, and upon entering the temple grounds, the approach to the main hall proceeds along a long, straight path flanked on both sides by cedar trees.

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Tall cedar trees, standing majestically along the path leading to the main shrine.

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An alternate path detours off to the right of the entrance and by a number of caves that were used in the past for meditation and as a cinerarium 
 to house the ashes of the deceased, and today contain statues. It is currently closed temporary due to safety concerns.

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No idea why they placed a telephone booth here out of nowhere haha!

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The Guardian deity of longevity. Casted in 1863, this bronze statue is a figure holding a Buddhist ring on his right hand and a wishing jewel on his left.
He is perched upon a lotus leaf with his left leg hanging down.

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A monument of remembrance to commemorate those who lost their lives while building the railway tracks. 

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It was built by the Sendai Railway Administration Bureau. 

The islands off the coast of Matsushima are one of Japan's scenic treasures. Over the ages, the deep-blue waves of Matsushima Bay have sculpted these rock islands into fantastical shapes, on top of which grow miniature forests of pine trees. Each year, three million people come from around the world to behold the islands of Matsushima. Pleasure-boat skippers make a good living ferrying sightseers out to the islets.

On that faithful day of March 11, 2011, the epicenter of the devastating earthquake and tsunami was located just off Matsushima Bay. The tsunami destroyed nearby cities but amazingly, the breathtaking pine-covered islands was spared and suffered little damage in the disaster. The tsunami reached frightening heights elsewhere along the coast - 30 feet and higher. But here in Matsushima Bay, it was reported the sea only rose three to five feet. Here, the tsunami was more a gentle flood than an onrushing bulldozer. The islands acted as a buffer and saved this place.

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Gyūtan (牛タン), one of the famous local product from Sendai.  

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As an area prone to natural disaster like tsunami, the town is well-prepared, such as this tsunami evacuation routes painted on the ground.

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One of the tsunami-damaged store front. This photo shows how the same spot looked like just over a month after the earthquake and tsunami hit the area.

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Some of the shops facing the bay are still closed as they were the worst-hit buildings.

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The concrete tsunami wall at the bay was slightly damaged too.

The great wave climbed up the sides of the islands, and then it receded. The tsunami wiped away the small settlements on the outlying, Pacific-facing islands of Katsura-jima and Nono-jima. However, the vast majority of the 260 islands in the bay look just as they did before March 11. Matsushima is one of the only places along the shattered Sanriku coast that is intact. In fact, the islands probably look much as they did when their splendor inspired the famous haiku in 1689, which is attributed to the great Japanese nature poet, Matsuo Bashō.

Matsushima ah! (松島や)
A-ah, Matsushima, ah! (ああ松島や)
Matsushima, ah! (松島や)

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The Matsushima scenery led the master of Haiku poetic literature to say that it was "the very best view in Japan," and never fails to please the eye.

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With our Singaporean friends.

Most of us did some shopping in Matsushima, mainly to contribute in reviving the local economy. After spending almost a couple of hours in Matsushima, our bus started a six-hour journey to head back to Tokyo, as half of the Caravaners would catch their midnight flight back to their respective countries.

It was during this time that Miss Aiko Doden, a senior news commentator who has been with us throughout the three-day visit to the tsunami-affected area, took the opportunity to conduct a few interviews with the tsunami survivors among us. The full version of the documentary, which was broadcasted on NHK BS1 on 17 June, 2011 through the program "Hot@Asia", can be viewed through this link.

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Miss Aiko conducting the interview, with the help of a translator who was also part of the Caravan team.

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We safely arrived at the Nippon Foundation headquarters in Tokyo just before seven in the evening. Everyone were hugging each other to bid farewell,
although they got to know each other just less than three days earlier.

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Miss Adelina from the ASEAN Secretariat giving a short closing note to all the participants.

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Ronnel Del Rio, our visually-impaired Baba from the Philippines.

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Finally, a group photo of the five Malaysians who joined the Caravan - Azizul, Ellaine, Amy, Fairus and myself.

For many of the volunteers, the Caravan of Goodwill was a journey that will shape their lives. The outreach to the victims, the bonding with their hosts and fellow Caravaners, and above it all, the new friendships made over the trip, would be remembered for a long time. To everyone who was involved in making this a great success, I thank you all!

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