The Sakura Line 311 is a lasting monument inspired by the past with an eye to the future. 105 miles of cherry trees, “Sakura” in Japanese, are being planted by volunteers along the high water mark of the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. The 56-foot tsunami devastated the heart of the Rikuzentakata city, in the Iwate Prefecture, where the Sakura Line project was born. 1900 lives were lost in that city alone.
The 9.0 earthquake triggered a powerful tsunami that reached heights of up to 130 ft. (40.5 meters) and which traveled up to 6 miles inland (10km). Over 20,000 died in the devastation along the Pacific coastline of Japan’s northern islands.
This exquisite natural monument serves a dual purpose, both practical and symbolic. While creating a touching memorial to victims of the disaster, the planned 105 mile (170 km) row of pink blossoming cherry trees along the tsunami’s high water line will also stand as a potentially life-saving reference, showing residents how far to evacuate from the coast in the event of a future tsunami warning.
There were a few forgotten stone monuments marking high water points of past tsunamis in Rikuzentakata, known as Takata. Had residents been aware of their history more lives may have been saved. This new demarcation will not be so easily overlooked as the progress of debris removal and reconstruction softens the edge of the devastation. The trees of the Sakura Line 311 will grow in stature and beauty, standing as a timeless reminder for future generations.
The project started in August 2011 with 259 Sakura trees planted to date, at 60 locations in the city. In 2012 350 more Sakura trees will be planted in November and December. The goal of the non-profit group, to eventually plant about 17,000 cherry trees, one every 11 yards, in a line some 105 miles long, may require more than 10 years to complete. As word of the project spreads, individuals and businesses across Japan have donated cherry saplings, landowners in Takata have given the group permission to plant the saplings, and hundreds of volunteers have participated.
Though it was expected to take 4 years for the Sakura saplings to bloom, many of the trees have bloomed the first spring after planting – a rare and inspiring occurrence.
“Having lost many friends and acquaintances due to the tsunami, I regret that we had no knowledge of inland points where waves had reached in the past. I don’t want future generations to feel the same way,”
Takumi Hashizume, President, “Sakura Line 311″
Photos courtesy of Sakura Line 311