Locals in Tsunami-hit Area of Japan Hope Imperial Couple Visit Will Spur More Greenery

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yoshihisa Suzuki returns a Rosa rugosa plant that survived the 2011 tsunami to Takatamatsubara in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, on April 8.

Residents of Iwate Prefecture are hopeful a visit this weekend by the Emperor and Empress to attend the National Tree Planting Festival will encourage more greenery in the area.

Rikuzentakata, where the festival is being held, was among areas severely affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Preparations were underway Saturday for the Empress to sow seeds of Rosa rugosa — which features on her personal seal — at the festival.

“I feel a mysterious bond with Her Majesty,” said Yoshihisa Suzuki, the 78-year-old president of the Association for the Protection of Takatamatsubara, a local NPO.

The city’s coastal area — once a scenic spot where around 70,000 pines and Rosa rugosa shrubs thrived — lost many of its natural assets to the earthquake and tsunami. The area is well known for the “miracle lone pine” tree that remained standing after the disaster; a number of Rosa rugosa plants also survived the devastating tidal wave.

In the summer of 2012, members of the association found Rosa rugosa shrubs with vibrant pink flowers in the ravaged sandy soil. “Even after enduring a tsunami, they were still blooming,” Suzuki said. “It seemed like a miracle.”

The shrubs were carefully relocated to a field on higher ground, where they were nurtured by association members. By April this year, they had grown to about 50 in number and measured about 1.5 meters tall. The plants have now been returned to Takatamatsubara some 12 years after disaster struck the area.

Prefecture officials and others had hoped to have the Empress sow seeds from these plants at the festival, but due to a dearth of seeds, they instead will use seeds from Rosa rugosa shrubs growing in a local elementary school yard. The Empress was set to sow these seeds during the festival on Sunday.

“This will be a significant step toward the revival of the coastal areas where Rosa rugosa thrives.” Suzuki said. “I hope the festival serves as an opportunity to make the city even more verdant.”