Japan tsunami town bound to Chile by smiling statue
News On Japan via AFP -- Apr 05
The small Japanese fishing town of Minami Sanriku is half a world away from Chile, but the two places share a bond that crosses a vast ocean: Moai statues.
For two decades an enigmatic smiling face, carved locally in the mould of an Easter Island Moai, kept watch over what residents of Minami Sanriku came to know as Chile Plaza.
But when the huge waves of last March's tsunami swamped the town, the statue, like hundreds of buildings, was toppled, its two-metre head knocked off its body.
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.
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