Much of the town's infrastructure and m ost of its economy was wiped out when the gigantic waves swept ashore, killing 19,000 people along this once picturesque coast.
As the town gradually staggers back to its feet, the statue is providing inspiration, and a glimmer of hope for the future.
When residents began their clear-up after the tsunami, they pulled the still intact head from the rubble of Chile Plaza and hauled it to a local high school, where it now watches the comings and goings of teenagers.
Shizugawa High School student Nana Yamauchi, 17, has never known Minami Sanriku without a Moai.
"It was already in this town when I was small, and I would wonder what it was," she said. "But now I know how important it is."
Minami Sanriku's connection with Chile, 17,000 kilometres (11,000 miles) away, dates from 1960, when a 9.5 magnitude earthquake struck the South American country.
More than 1,600 people were killed in Chile and two million were left homeless, but the quake also sent a tsunami hurtling across the Pacific to Japan, where it claimed 142 lives, more than a quarter of them in Minami Sanriku.
Thirty years later, the two disaster-prone communities celebrated each other's recovery, and after a visit from the Chilean ambassador to Japan, Minami Sanriku set up the Moai statue in a coastal park, which local residents named Chile Plaza.
|Apr 19||Radiation exposure estimate for returnees released|
|The Japanese government on Friday issued estimates of how much radiation residents would be exposed if they return to their homes near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. (NHK )|
|Apr 19||Japan to continue whaling in Pacific|
|Japan will go ahead with research whaling in the northwestern Pacific for fiscal 2014, but by reducing catches following an International Court of Justice ruling that ordered the country to stop whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Friday. (The Japan News )|
|Apr 19||Male cross-dresser arrested for assaulting 3 elementary school students|
|Kanagawa prefectural police said Friday they have arrested an unemployed 42-year-old man on assault charges for allegedly attacked a 10-year-old elementary school boy and two others as they were playing in Yokosuka City in February of this year. (Japan Today )|
|Apr 19||Japan, U.S. fail to narrow differences in TPP talks|
|Japan and the United States ended their three-day ministerial talks in Washington on Friday on the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral free trade initiative, being unable to narrow differences over Japanese tariffs in key farm product categories. (Jiji Press )|
|Apr 18||Bird fu in Japan has same virus type as S. Korea flu|
|Japan's farm ministry said Thursday that the highly pathogenic avian influenza found at a poultry farm in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Kumamoto has been confirmed to be the H5N8 subtype, the same virus strain as the bird flu found in South Korea. (Jiji Press )|
|Apr 19||Murakami's new book hits shelves amid fan frenzy; more ordered|
|Haruki Murakami's first collection of short stories in nine years hit store shelves in Japan on Friday with excited fans lining up for the midnight launch. (Japan Times )|
|Apr 19||Japan virtual star Hatsune Miku to join Lady Gaga tour|
|Hatsune Miku, a computer-generated Japanese pop star who performs as a hologram, is to support some of Lady Gaga's tour of North America next month, the U.S. songstress has announced on Twitter. (Japan Today )|
|Apr 18||Police officer arrested for sexually assaulting woman on train|
|A police officer has been arrested for assaulting a woman on a train car in Tokyo. Police identified the suspect as Akira Inada, 53, who works at the Ushigome Station. (Japan Today )|
|Apr 18||Homemaker joins Japan girl band AKB48|
|Japanese commercial music juggernaut AKB48 has added a 37-year-old mother of two to the wildly popular all-girl group as it looks to broaden the appeal of its teen-dominated line-up. (AFP )|
|Apr 18||Imperial couple hosts spring garden party|
|Japan's Emperor and Empress have hosted more than 2,000 guests at their Spring Imperial Garden Party. (NHK )|
|Apr 18||Man jumps to death from 8th floor of Foreign Ministry building|
|An employee of the Foreign Ministry jumped to his death from the 8th floor at the ministry, police said Thursday. (Japan Today )|
|Apr 17||Man in his 30s being questioned over murder of 7-year-old girl in 2005|
|Tochigi prefectural police said Thursday that they are questioning a man in his 30s over the murder of a 7-year-old girl in December 2005. Japanese media quoted police as saying that the man, who was arrested for dealing in fake brand-name goods, has hinted at his involvement in the murder. (Japan Today )|
|Apr 17||6-year-old boy dead, 3-year-old girl in coma after being swept away in river|
|A 6-year-old boy died and a 3-year-old girl remains in a coma after they were swept away by a strong current in a river in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on Wednesday afternoon. (Japan Today )|
|Apr 17||Spectacular snow walls|
|People enjoy viewing the 15-meter snow walls of the Yuki no Otani (Great Snow Valley), along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route that passes through the Northern Japan Alps to link Toyama and Nagano prefectures. (The Japan News )|
|Apr 17||24-year-old man arrested for robbing convenience store|
|Police in Tokyo said Wednesday they have arrested an unemployed 24-year-old man for robbing a convenience store in Shibuya. (Japan Today )|