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By 2011, it had stopped the tsunami in eastern Japan, and the temple clock began ticking again after the 2021 earthquake


Bunshun Sakano, the 58-year-old high priest at the Fumunji Temple in Yamamoto Township, Miyagi Prefecture, points to the clock that started working 10 years later after the earthquake in Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures in February. (Mainchi / Hannah Fujita)

SENDAI – A clock at a temple in Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, which stopped operating after being submerged in a tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, is moving again after a strong earthquake in Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures in February 2021.

Bunshun Sakano, the 58-year-old high priest at the Fumunji Temple in Yamamoto Township, Miyagi Prefecture, says he was inspired by the sudden restart of the clock.

“It is an encouraging sign that a real restoration will come,” he said, resolving to work hard for the sake of the region as Japan approaches its eleventh year after the earthquake disaster.

The Hanakama district of the city, where the temple is located, has been designated as a disaster risk area, and the temple is surrounded by empty plots of land. Sakano found the clock, which has a diameter of about 80 cm, several years before the March 2011 disaster in an antique store in Fukushima Prefecture. It had a spring-driven movement and was made by Seikosha (present-day Seiko Time Creation Company) believed to have been produced nearly 100 years ago, at the end of the Taisho Era (1912-1926) or the beginning of the next Showa period.

During the late hours of February 13 this year, an earthquake, measuring 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, struck Yamamoto. The next morning, Sakano went to inspect the damage to the main hall of the temple, and heard a ticking sound. It turned out that the watch, which remained turned off even after cleaning, was starting to work again. He’d thought it would stop working again eventually, but nearly two months from then, he’s still going through.

“Maybe he would push me forward with a new design,” Sakano recalls.

When asked why the watch started moving again, a Seiko representative commented, “It is possible that the pendulum, which had stopped, began to move again as the earthquake vibration, or that the dust accumulated inside it has vanished.”

The temple, which is located a few hundred meters from the coast, was exposed to the tsunami that reached almost the ceiling of the first floor during the disaster in March 2011. The water penetrated the walls “as if it was passing through a ceramic pipe,” leaving only the pillars and the ceiling. Debris was scattered around the temple, and the clock, which hung at the entrance, was submerged in the water.

Sakano shed tears in front of the Buddhist statue, which barely remained. About a week after the disaster, a backer called the temple, saying that her husband’s body had been found and that she wanted him to come and hesitate to sutras. But his Buddhist clothes and his altar parts were swept away, and without petrol for his car, he had no way to get there.

Sakano rejected the woman, telling her he couldn’t go, only to attack her and say, “What do you mean? You call yourself a monk!” He came to the realization that he was indeed a monk and that if he had not taken care of the temple supporters, “the temple was merely an ornament on the landscape.” He borrowed clothes from another temple, and managed to get to the funeral hall by bike, where he kneeled on the ground and apologized to the woman, and read a sutra.

The temple, seen in this September 2019 photo, has become a place for locals to sell handcrafted food and sundry items. (Photo courtesy of Marsh Temple)

“This temple is here because of the local area and its supporters. If there are people in trouble in the area, I must help them,” Sakano thought again.

In July 2011, a volunteer center was established at the temple as a base for disaster volunteers from different regions, and they made efforts to clean houses in the neighborhood, a job that no one has touched. Using cove poles and a home shrine from a former resident’s house he decided to dismantle the structure and ask Sakano to use their house materials to leave their legacy as a member of the community, and a meeting room connected to the main hall of the temple was reconstructed.

In the year after the earthquake and tsunami, Sakano also started a “temple cafe” so that temple supporters, who would visit the graves of their loved ones while seeing the grass growing over the plots of land where their homes were standing, could enjoy even a small coffee shop the amount of time together. Several years later, it was renamed “Temple Market”, and a market event in which residents sold handcrafted food and various items was held there once a month.

One of them thanked Sakano, saying, “I was afraid of the tsunami and could not approach the sea, but as I continued to attend the events, I was able to return to the area.”

The old watch was there watching Sakano in his efforts. Regarding it as “one of the few remaining mementos from the tsunami,” he cleaned and wound the spring, but didn’t move at all. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, market events have been suspended from February last year, and Sakano is no longer able to meet with volunteers from all over the country. The idea of ​​ending the gatherings came to Sakano’s mind when the clock started ticking again. After he was stopped by the epidemic, he felt the clock tell him to “move again”.

Ten years have passed since the two great earthquake and tsunami struck eastern Japan.

“We have reached a turning point in the reconstruction work, and restoration in the true sense of the word begins now,” Sakano said. While it looks like he will have to endure a difficult situation for some time, he continues to look forward.

“Planning outdoor markets and gathering volunteers… I would like people to think, ‘This chief priest is doing something again’ so that they don’t lose hope,” Sakano said.

(Japanese origin by Hana Fujita, Sendai office)


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