Felled Sacred Tree at Fukushima School Returns to Students in Personalized Form

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Masaji Tomioka speaks at an event to remember the “Taishi no Matsu” pine tree in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 29, as Hiromi Yuino, left, and students hold plaques made from the fallen tree.

FUKUSHIMA — A 400-year-old pine tree was felled by strong winds when Typhoon No. 15 hit the nation in September 2019. The tree, which grew at Kusano Elementary School in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, was viewed as sacred and thought to be a protector of the local community.

To leave a memento for future generations, two local residents made about 600 plaques from the fallen tree, called “Taishi no Matsu,” and inscribed them with the kanji “kokorozashi,” which means willpower. On Oct. 29, a remembrance ceremony was held for the tree at the school in the Tairashimokabeya district and gave 420 plaques to the students, one for each student who was enrolled last year.

For years, local residents, who had concerns or a wish, would worship the tree by touching it. The tree was the spiritual center for the students at the school. When the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake struck, the local residents felt as if the tree was watching over the people who were evacuated from Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, to Iwaki after the tsunami triggered the nuclear accident.

However, the symbolic tree was knocked over when the typhoon hit the city on Sept. 9, 2019, as maximum wind speeds registered at 96.1 kph in the Onahama district.

The tree’s trunk, which had a circumference of about 3.25 meters, was removed, but local volunteers brought home branches and began making wooden plaques in January. Masaji Tomioka, 69, a former president of the parents and teachers association at the school, created postcard-sized plaques and burned a mark for “Taishi no Matsu” onto the plates, while Hiromi Yuino, 83, who is a skilled carver, inscribed the “kokorozashi” kanji character.

“Wood comes to life with a person’s touch,” Yuino said to the students during the event. “As you cover the plaque with your hands and feel its warmth, please think of your friends, teachers and parents, and remember how hard you worked.”

“I want to keep believing that the pine tree will continue to watch over me, even after I become a junior high school student,” said Kaito Nitsuma, a 12-year-old sixth-grade student.

The students will personalize the plaques by painting it their favorite colors to make it something they can treasure. The school is currently working to create a picture book about the pine tree.