Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Piece of Japanese Shrine or Torii Washes Ashore in Oregon

It is spring break, and Oregonians and other Pacific northwest residents are hitting the coastline to enjoy the sand and (hopefully) some sun.  That means more eyes than usual on the beaches, and the thought of tsunami debris is on the minds of many.

Confirmation that debris is still washing ashore occurred on Friday, March 22nd.  Oregon resident Judson Randall was taking a stroll on an Oceanside, Oregon beach (south of Tillamook), when he spied a large piece of what appeared to be driftwood.  Upon approach, however, Randall realized that the object was much more than just that.

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The piece of wood, measuring over 16 feet long was covered in sea life and being swarmed by seagulls as Randall approached. The Japanese consulate was informed of the debris, and the non-governmental organization Jinja Honcho confirmed that the artifact was a segment of a Shinto Shrine, or torii - a highly-recognizable religious structure unique to Japanese culture. Shinto shrines are commonly depicted in photographs, paintings, or Japanese gardens, and are found at culturally-important natural or religious sites. 

Section of what appears to be a torii, or Japanese Shrine.  The bright red paint is still apparent [Photo: Judson Randall].

There are approximately 80,000 Shinto shrines in Japan, and they are all under the stewardship of the NGO Jinja Honcho (Association of Shinto Shrines). Shinto is the primary indigenous religion in Japan, with 80-90 percent of Japanese citizens observing it or participating in Shinto rituals.  Shinto likely arose during the Yayoi period, from 300 BC to 300 AD.  The Shinto religion is largely nature-based, and coexists with Buddhism and other religions.  Torii themselves appear to have originated around approximately 800 AD.  

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Daiwa torii [Photo: Wikipedia]

Iwahashi Katsuji, the chief international PR officer for Jinja Honcho, says that it may be difficult - but not impossible- to trace the piece of the torii back to its origin.  Until then, it is a beautiful and sobering reminder of the all-encompassing impacts of the 2011 tsunamis.

Remember if you are on the Oregon beaches this week to keep an eye out for debris.  Instructions on what to do with debris can be found at various State Parks, and also on my Resources page.

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