Prayers of Remembrance and for Recovery: A Memorial Service and Concert Commemorating 3/11

A year has passed since that fateful day. Commemorative ceremonies were held on March 11 not only in the hardest-hit prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi but also throughout Japan. Tenrikyo members not only provided gagaku music for several ceremonies but also hosted memorial services of their own, such as one organized by Iwate Diocese a couple of days earlier on March 9.

Iwate Diocese—which a year after the 1933 Sanriku Earthquake held a memorial service—took the step to conduct a ceremony to console the souls of people who passed away for rebirth in last year’s disaster, which caused an even higher number of casualties than in 1933.

The memorial service took place on Nebama Beach in Kamaishi City. The tsunami that struck the beach on March 11 was about 10 meters (32.8 ft.) high. Images of the owner of the Horaikan Inn directing local residents and her guests to higher ground were replayed several times on the news.

Nebama Beach was once selected as one of Japan’s top 100 coastlines renowned for having a pristine white beach and green pine trees. The beach was quite popular as a bathing beach overlooking Otsuchi Bay. Now, one can hardly recognize it as two kilometers (1.2 mi.) of beautiful white sands have disappeared.

About 280 people attended the memorial service on March 9, whose high temperature was 2ºC (35.6ºF). Among those attending was Akiko Iwasaki, 55, the owner of Horaikan Inn. She said: “This is the first time a memorial service for the disaster was conducted on this beach. We really appreciate everyone from Tenrikyo for also removing debris from the shore.”

After the reading of a service prayer, service officiants lined up and bowed in prayer. Those assembled then offered their prayers. Some attendees were visibly in tears as they put their hands together and prayed.

The chief officiant of the memorial service, Iwate Diocese Superintendent Toshitsugu Nakata, 74, spoke to those assembled, saying: “The deceased went through much pain, agony, sadness, and sorrow. . . . I wholeheartedly pray that they may quickly be reborn and help in the restoration of their ruined hometown.”

Also attending was Akita Diocese Superintendent Keitaro Watanabe, 59, who said: “Looking about the area, it hit home that conditions in the disaster area remain severe. I not only want to express my condolences for the people who passed away for rebirth but also pledge to survivors still carrying feelings of sadness and agony that we will continue to extend a helping hand for a long time to come.”

Among the many commemorative events held on March 11 was a “Prayers to Pacify Souls Concert” in Yamamoto-cho, Miyagi Prefecture, which was organized by a Kanto-area volunteer group. About 130 people attended the event.

Yamamoto-cho was greatly affected by the tsunami. Many areas were placed off-limits. Even the area around Ushibashi Residents Hall, where the concert was held, was placed off-limits until late August last year, which delayed restoration efforts.

Tenrikyo members supporting these restoration efforts helped cook udon noodles and hot dogs on the day of the concert. The concert included gagaku performed by members of Ushigome and Honpo grand churches and an ocarina performance by other volunteers, which encouraged a meaningful exchange between performers and residents.

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