Zen Art

An Update on Sendai

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that stuck northern Japan on March 11, my friends and family in Sendai report that they have, as much as possible, returned to life as normal. This, of course, is important not just for the rebuilding of the area, but psychologically as well—looking forward instead of bemoaning one’s fate. Remarkably, even though the bay of Matsushima near Sendai is right on the coast, this beauty spot—famed for its pine-tree covered islands—largely escaped damage. The coastal towns on either side of Matsushima were destroyed, but Matsushima remained pretty much intact. Also, 400-year-old Zuigan-ji, a National Treasure, one of the most beautiful temples in Japan, and the spiritual center of Matsushima survived. It is a marvel that such ancient wooden buildings can withstand the strongest earthquakes. (It is fire and tsunami that are the big threats to wooden structures.) The builders of past generations not only knew how to construct buildings that would not fall down during an earthquake, but they also knew exactly where to put them: in places where the ground is solid, stable, and protected. Zuigan-ji served as an evacuation center for refuges from the tsunami for a few weeks.

I visited Zuigan-ji many times during my years in Sendai, either with friends or family, or on my own. I sat zazen in the meditation hall on occasion. In the Zen Art Gallery we have two (#260, #1966) Darumas by the Zuigan-ji abbot Matsubara Banryu. Banryu died in 1935, so I did not know him, but many of my acquaintances, both monastic and lay, had trained under him. Banryu was a great eccentric, and he had several female dharma-heirs, something unusual in that time. Miura Joten (#2156) was Banryu’s disciple and successor at Zuigan-ji. Joten was the master of the 104-year-old Sasaki Joshu, founder of Mt. Baldy Zen Monastery in California.


Matsushima, the "Pine Tree Islands," near Sendai (credit: Japan Photo Library)

The 400-year-old "sleeping dragon" plum trees of Zuigan-ji, in bloom again this year.