A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

In the Quake`s Aftermath- a Visit to Some Farms, Shrines, and Temples in Tsukuba


Stone lanterns at a shrine in Tsukuba toppled by the Great Earthquake of 2011

By Avi Landau


One thing I often do when I feel the need for a psychological or spiritual boost, or at times when I just want to get away from it all for a short time and commune with my thoughts, is head for one of Tsukuba`s numerous small JINJA (shrines). No, I do not pray to the Gods enshrined there, nor do I even enter the halls themselves ( which are usually locked up). What I enjoy is the aesthetic experience of what I find to be the most uplifting of all religious architecture- a perfectly simple, yet beautiful, man-made structure set in the middle of a shadowy, sacred grove (CHINJU NO MORI), usually composed of ancient ( and often gnarled) trees, teeming with birdlife.The  grounds of these woods are also usually adorned with various sacred objects made of sticks, stone and straw. Leaving the concrete, plastic and steel world of modern Japan and entering into these oases of greenery and tradition is always wonderous and mysterious ( for me).

As you can imagine,there HAS been a lot on my mind these days. The horrors of the Tsunami, the plight of the refugees, and the uncertain future facing all of us living in this part of Japan. With reports of radioactivity having been found in various vegetables tested in Ibaraki Prefecture ( as well as in the water, and milk), we live here with a day to day anxiety, and for the local farmers it has become a nightmare. It is reasonable to assume that there will be no takers for any produce with the stigma of the label IBARAKI PREFECTURE on it- even if it were given away for free.

This is a terrible blow to this prefecture, which prides itself on its delicious fruits, vegetables, and rice. In fact , now the question is if the farmers will plant rice ( or vegetables) at all this year. There is a good chance that they will not. Not only will this be devastating to Japan`s food security (rice self sufficiency) and the local economy, but it will have a huge impact on the wildlife- the birds,small animals and insects, which have adapted themselves to  lives which coincide with Japan`s agricultural (rice) cycle.

A stone lantern at Hakke`s Kashima Shrine was damaged in the quake

With this grim situation in mind, I was thinking ( and worrying) about Ryuichi Someya, a farmer I have previously written about who has put his heart and soul ( as well as all his time and energy) into growing the most delicious asparagus I have ever tasted. I went to see how he was doing and found him on his farm in Tsukuba`s Hakke (百家) neighborhood. Though he MUST be extremely nervous about the future of his farm and his beloved asparagus, he didnt let it on to me. With a big smile on his face, he gave me a tour of the grounds and cut me a bunch of choice sprouts to take home. Displaying his never-say-die spirit, he told me that he would go on with his farm work ( which is gruelling) as usual- and hope that when his produce is tested it will show negative for radiation. Im not sure if even that will help him get customers, but I sure do hope that somehow things work out ok for Someya-San, and the rest of Ibaraki`s (as well as Fukushima`s and Chiba`s) farmers.

For more on Someya-San`s farm:


Saying good-bye, with the bundle of asparagus in my arms, I was not in the best of moods- the perfect time to seek refuge within the precincts of a shrine! What I found when I arrived at one, however, really surprised me. Though Tsukuba suffered relatively little damage in the recent earthquake, mostly fallen roof tiles and stone walls in the older neighborhoods, the grounds of the first shrine I visited were  in shambles- all the sacred stones had been knocked out of place! And since some of these stones were large lanterns which had toppled over, I realized that being at one of these shrines would have been one of the most dangerous types of places to have been at when the quake struck.

I went on to check out more shrines in Tsukuba and found similar situations at nearly every one.

At Tsukuba`s Ichinoya Shrine a stone lantern has lost its top while a KOMA INU ( guardian dog) teeters precariously at the edge of its stand

Part of an elaborate grave which has fallen over due to the earthquake

Visiting a Buddhist temple ( where there are usually cemeteries) I found that many gravestones had been toppled over by the forceof the quake . The professional stone movers were already at work with their winches setting things straight. It will be a long time before their work is done.

Some of the many stone movers who are busy at work now in Tsukuba, resetting fallen sacred stones and gravestones

(With the nightmarish devastation and horror wrought by the tsunami in the Tohoku ( North-Eastern) Region, I hesitate to write about the slight damage ( mere inconveniences) experienced by us here in Tsukuba. Still, it seems that there are many, especially those who once lived here or have friends here ,  who have an interest in what is going in this part of Japan).

The great stone TORII gate at the Kashima Grand Shrine ( Kashima Jingu) was toppled by the great earthquake of March 11th

The most dramatic (and ironic)  damage sustained by a shrine in the recent earthquake ( not the tsunami) was the loss of the huge stone torii gate at Ibaraki Prefectures Number 1 Shrine (ICHINOMIYA)- the Kashima Grand Shrine. The reason I say it is ironic is that this shrine was the center of the popular earthquake suppression cult known as  NAMAZU SHINKO ( 鯰信仰)- catfish worship .  In Japan it was believed ( before modern science) that earthquakes were caused by an immense subterranian catfish which would occassionally thrash its tail around, shaking up the land on which we live. Devotees would make pilgrimages to this shrine to make sure the catfish remained calm- or should I say subdued, as there is a small stone ( the KANAME ISHI) within the precincts of the shrine which was ( and still is by some) believed to restrain the catfish`s head.

For more on the KANAME ISHI:


and if you`d like to know about the fascinating character who helped preserve Japan`s SACRED GROVES- MINAKATA KUMAGUSU (南方熊楠):



  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Huge Ishidoros falling down!
    That was the most horrible time for me!
    I was in Tokyo when the Earthquake struck at 2:46 pm on 11/3/2011.
    After I visited the Shotoku Memorial Picture Gallery which Avi-san introduced last fall, I was walking along-side the crown Prince`s residence. I felt like I I might be having a brain hemorrhage, but instantly recognized it was not. I called out to the young lady talking on her sell phone “Its an earthquake! Be careful! Stay low! She noticed what was happening and cried out. The swaying lasted for what seemed like a very long.time. Anyway for several minutes.The first after shock came soon after the main earthquake stopped.

    Then as I was walking along the hedge farther on, there was Aoyama Sanchome subway station. There were many people there. One European lady was sitting on a stone. I asked her “Are you all right”, and she said”I was down there in the subway station. I was so scared!!”

    I went along and entered Toyokawa-Inari (Shrine) to avoid the crowds and also to pray to the god INARI-SAMA. I put in one coin, bowed two times, clapped my hands twice, and bowed two times, according to tradition. There were two huge stone lanterns more than two meter high up ahead on the path. As I neared them there was another after-shock. The lady beside me began screaming. I shouted. “Stop screaming, Come on, get away from those stone-lanterns, they are swaying! In Front of us were the lanterns, behind was a stone wall. We almost froze but somehow were able to run.
    That was the most horrible moment for me in my life.

    After that I was walking and walking, ate a big rice burger and bought two pound cakes as emergency food, and some green tea to drink. I rested for 3 hours in the middle of the night at the office of a congress-man who offered his place as a refuge to the many people who were trying to walk home.

    It took 25 hours to go back my home, during 65km I guessed I walked 45km. My thighs and calves got pain two to three days. I got no blisters. I had a rucksack, sweater, Tyrolean hat, gloves, compass, knife, whistle, a map, those I bringing all the time and 10 dried persimmon-fruits. Those for the first time were very useful for trip to Tokyo.

  • Keiko says:

    Hello Shimizu-San. You had a frightening experience. I was in the hospital in Tsuchiura City. It was also very scary.

    Unfortunately, not only roofs and walls were damaged in Tsukuba City.
    Now the big shopping mall called iias is still closed. The roof was very much damaged and water was leaking from broken pipes causing more damage. It will remain closed I hear for a few more weeks. Only the Kasumi supermarket is open there.
    Also the Aeon shopping mall in Tsuchiura City has a similar situation.
    Many other shops and offices remain closed.
    Take care everyone

  • Dan Waldhoff says:


    Our life is back to “normal” though all of us might never forget. I had a “crisis” day a week or so ago when too much bad news via news, email, meetings with friends who stayed, thoughts of friends who fled, students from the disaster epicenter all came together. The day ended in conversations with Japanese friends who commented that they now knew who among their foreign friends they might really trust and that their lives (land/homes/sempai/kohai/relatives/history/etc.) were not portable – they would remain till the very end, as would Mako and I.

    From last week we have natto from a top secret source – life is good.


  • Avi Landau says:

    Took a drive out to the coast of central and northern Ibaraki Prefecture, an area hit by a smaller version of the tsunami which completely devastated the more northerly coastline.

    I had an interesting talk with some fisherman, who told about something I had never thought about before. I`ll call it the Fisherman`s Dillema- the terrible decision that the men who make their living from the sea ( with their own crafts) have to make when the tsunami warning sounds.

    You see, if the fishing boats are in port when a tsunami hits, they get washed up on shore and are very likely damaged beyond repair. The thing to do is get the boat out to sea, where the huge wave is encounters only as a large swell in the sea.

    That is why when the tsunami alarm sounded on March 11th, the first thing on the fishermans minds ( I mean those who were not already out at sea) was to hurry out of port.

    The only problem with doing that is that many of the boat owners now live a distance from the sea, and the only way to get to their boats would be BY CAR!

    That is the fisherman`s Dillemma- which do you give up, your boat or your car?

    Clearly, in Northern Ibaraki the answer to this question is you forfeit the car. This is evidenced by all the car wrecks which can still be seen literring the coast, while I saw only one boat washed up on the shore.