Ise donates cypress logs to fix Tohoku shrines

Chunichi Shimbun

“Hinoki” cypress from Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture will be used to rebuild Shinto shrines damaged during the deadly March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, whose monster tsunami devastated the Tohoku region.

The shrine conducts the Shikinen Sengu ceremony once every 20 years to transfer enshrined objects to newly constructed buildings.

This year, Ise Shrine will provide cypress logs from trees grown in the area to be used as construction material at shrines in areas affected by the earthquake. In addition, parts of defunct old buildings will also be donated when the 62nd Sengu ceremony ends this fall.

In this 1,300-year-old tradition, 65 wooden buildings, including the Inner Ise Shrine, which houses one of the three sacred treasures, the Yata no Kagami (Sacred Mirror), and the Outer Ise Shrine, are rebuilt and roughly 1,500 sacred treasures, including weapons and furnishings, are moved into the new buildings.

It takes eight years to complete the whole process, since traditional methods and conventions have to be complied with. The total cost amounts to ¥55 billion, all of which is provided through donations from citizens.

There are 5,500 hectares of natural forest within the grounds of the shrine in southern Ise and cypress trees have been planted there for future harvesting as construction material.

The logs are rarely provided for outside use, but Ise Shrine decided to offer 600 cypress tree trunks to the shrines affected by the disaster for free.

These logs are being dried and treated at a lumber mill in Iwate Prefecture at the moment.

According to the Association of Shinto Shrines, the main altars at 130 shrines in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures were either completely destroyed or washed away by the tsunami.

The association created a fund and plans to rebuild 10 Shinto shrines in Miyagi Prefecture by the end of March. Cypress trees from Ise Shrine will be used in reconstructing these 10 shrines.

Niiyama Shrine in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, last November became the first shrine to complete the reconstruction of its main altar. The building, which measured around 10 sq. meters, was washed away by the tsunami. The only construction material used was cypress logs donated by Ise Shrine.

A total of 600 former citizens now living in different parts of the country attended its celebration festival.

“(I’m grateful.) The fragrant wood was of excellent quality. There were barely any joints in the wood,” said Michio Oda, the shrine’s 80-year-old chief priest, who now lives in temporary housing.

When the defunct buildings are demolished after the end of the Sengu ceremony, Ise Shrine will be left with some 10,000 cypress logs.

These are called “old materials” and are usually reused to repair torii, and other shrines nationwide.

After the previous Sengu ceremony, 69 shrines in the country received cypress logs from Ise Shrine.

It has not yet been decided where the logs will be distributed this time, but historically the logs have been sent to areas damaged in recent natural disasters, such as Okushiri Island after the 1993 quake off southwestern Hokkaido, and shrines in Kobe following the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.

Now, it is thought that much the old materials will be recycled and donated to reconstruct shrines in the Tohoku region.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 4