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Wolf ceiling paintings restored at Fukushima shrine after fire

Visitors admire the wolf paintings adorning the ceiling of Yamatsumi Shrine on Nov. 16, 2016, in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

IITATE, Fukushima -- Some 242 ceiling paintings of wolves at Yamatsumi Shrine in Fukushima Prefecture have been restored after being destroyed by fire. The shrine held its first festival since the restoration on Nov. 16, and the joyful townspeople got their first look at the restored wolf paintings.

    Yamatsumi Shrine is located in the village of Iitate in Fukushima Prefecture, inside the nuclear evacuation zone, but it remained open to the public even after the disaster. However, it burnt to the ground in April of 2013, taking with it the over 100-year-old wolf paintings. The shrine was rebuilt in June 2015.

    Kei Arai, assistant professor at the graduate school of the Tokyo University of the Arts and an expert in the restoration of Japanese paintings, oversaw the restoration project. Over the course of 10 months, graduate students at the university recreated the paintings from photographs.

    Yamatsumi Shrine was built in the Heian Period (794-1185). Legend says that a white wolf revealed the location of the bandit pillaging the village, Tachibana no Sumitora, to the nobleman Minamoto no Yoriyoshi, who then freed the village from the bandit. Since then, the paintings of the wolves in the shrine were beloved by the townspeople as symbols to ward off thieves.

    The evacuation order for a large part of Iitate will be lifted at the end of March 2017. The priest presiding over Yamatsumi Shrine commented that he intends to work hard together with the new wolf paintings.

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