Japanese city votes to scrap tsunami ship

City of Kesennuma against preserving ‘Kyotokumaru’ as memorial

Martin Murray from Asia Matters  with Japanense teenagers Masaki Konno, Yuri Wakui, Norei Kawai, Misuzo Sato, Saeka Fujisawa, Akane Mori, Ayakall The teenagers, from Tohoku in Japan,  are survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Martin Murray from Asia Matters with Japanense teenagers Masaki Konno, Yuri Wakui, Norei Kawai, Misuzo Sato, Saeka Fujisawa, Akane Mori, Ayakall The teenagers, from Tohoku in Japan, are survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 


It was swept up by Japan’s 2011 tsunami and dumped almost a kilometre inland from the Pacific. Now after months of discussion about whether a 360-ton tuna boat should be preserved, the city of Kesennuma has decided it is not a memorial but a painful scar and ordered it destroyed.

Debate on the fate of the 200ft Kyotokumaru, which has been stranded near the city’s flattened coastline for 2½ years, was so heated that the local government had to call a vote. In the end, just 16 per cent opted to keep it.

Kesennuma mayor Shigeru Sugawara was among those who wanted the ship to remain as a memorial to the earthquake and tsunami, and its almost 19,000 victims. But many more in the city of 70,000 said they could no longer bear to look at its rusting hulk.

“It’s just a constant reminder of the terrible disaster,” housewife Yoshimi Abe (72) told AP. “When I walk by it every morning, my heart aches.”


Symbol
The trawler has become an unofficial symbol of the March 11th, 2011, calamity, drawing visitors from across Japan and the world. Some visitors have planted flowers nearby in a once bustling area that was wiped clean by the tsunami. The ship’s towering red and blue hull can be seen for miles.

The Kyotokumaru is only one of the most potent symbols of the disaster. A 250-year-old pine tree from a forest of 60,000 that once stood by the sea in Rikuzentakata survived the tsunami that killed one in 12 of the city’s residents. The authorities finally abandoned attempts to save it this year after estimating it could cost up to 300 million yen (€2.3 million) to preserve it as a memorial.

Scientists are using cloning techniques to produce saplings from the ruined pine forest. The local government wants to grow the saplings in healthy farmland and transplant them back to the region, a project likely to take decades.

Most of the northeast has yet to rebuild from the disaster. Further down the coast, a large area of Fukushima has been abandoned by about 160,000 people fleeing radiation from the Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Mr Sugawara said he was disappointed that the trawler would be scrapped. “I wanted to leave a visible symbol of what happened here for generations to come. The decision has been made, and there’s nothing much more we can do.”