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Fukushima Pref. residents bid farewell to symbol of recovery, a single standing pine

Residents gather before the "Kashima no ippon matsu" for a ceremony before the tree was cut down later in the day, in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 27, 2017. (Mainichi)

MINAMISOMA, Fukushima -- Roughly 100 residents gathered to say their final goodbyes to "Kashima no ippon matsu," a single pine tree here that withstood the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, at a ceremony on Dec. 27.

    In the Minamimigita district of Minamisoma's Kashima Ward, where the pine stood, 70 homes were washed away by tsunami over 15 meters high, and 54 people -- a little under 20 percent of the residents -- fell victim to the waters. A pine forest stretching for 3 kilometers along the coast was also washed away -- except for the single tree.

    "When we had nothing else to rely on, that pine supported us," said former Kashima Ward mayor Kazuo Goga, 77, of the weight of the loss to the district's former residents. He came to give his final thanks to the tree that had become a symbol of recovery in the coastal area at the ceremony.

    With the damage from the tsunami and the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster, Goga had temporarily evacuated to neighboring Yamagata Prefecture, traveling back and forth to clear debris from his home and neighborhood. "Homes, fields and even birdsong all disappeared," he said. His hometown had been reduced to rubble, but what kept him going was the sight from his collapsed house of the single pine still standing.

    Kazuo Goga smiles in front of the "Kashima no ippon matsu" that survived the 2011 tsunami, in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 27, 2017. (Mainichi)

    Unfortunately, however, seawater from high tide that flowed over the destroyed breakwaters began rotting the roots of the tree, and while the "Kashima no ippon matsu o mamoru kai" (Association to protect the Kashima single pine tree) that Goga formed with local residents tried to save the tree by covering the roots with sandbags and applying chemicals to restore the tree's health, they were unsuccessful.

    The decision to cut the tree down was made when the location was designated by the prefectural government as part of an area to plant trees for disaster prevention. The prefectural government plans to plant saplings raised from the branches and seeds of the single pine in one corner of the forest zone.

    The district of Minamimigita was also dissolved in March of this year, as the majority of the area was designated as too dangerous for building residential housing. Now, the former residents have gone their separate ways. "Even if we have to part with this place, we will not forget Minamimigita," Goga said. "I hope our hearts can stay connected somehow." He plans to make nameplates from the felled pine and distribute them to the district's former residents.

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