Groundbreaking ceremony held for quake-ravaged Suwa Shrine in Futaba

Osaka-based homebuilder Soken Co. conducted a groundbreaking ceremony in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba on June 19 for a project to reconstruct Suwa Shrine destroyed by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. The company has offered to rebuild the shrine free of charge in the town's Morotake district to restore a place of spiritual support for the local community. Construction will begin in July, with delivery of a new shrine targeted for November. Present at the ceremony were some 30 people, including workers involved in the project and parishioners. The shrine's 84-year-old chief priest Teruaki Kowata, now evacuated to the city of Fukushima from the town of Namie, performed Shinto rituals while "tamagushi" (a branch of a sacred tree) was offered by some participants, including Takafumi Yoshimura, 69, chairman of Soken. The shrine is located on a hill meaning heavy machinery and vehicles are unable to gain access. Timber will be carried by hand, with workers cooperating with local residents. The company plans to build a high-strength shrine by combining the skills of "miyadaiku" (specialized shrine and temple carpentry) with state-of-the-art architectural technology. "A reconstruction memorial park is to be built nearby. Many people should visit the shrine along with the park," the priest said in an address at the ceremony. The Soken chairman said his company is "thankful for being able to undertake an amazing project of building a house for a deity. We will work in concert for the reconstruction." According to the Fukushima prefectural office of the Association of Shinto Shrines, there are 44 shrines left in areas designated as difficult-to-return due to still high levels of radiation stemming from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant caused by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami. In addition, about 30 shrines were swept away by the tsunami. Masahiro Tanji, head of the shrine office, expressed hope that the project "will lead to a spread in reconstruction to other shrines." 【Photo】 Takafumi Yoshimura, chairman of Soken Co., offers "tamagushji" (a branch from a sacred tree) at a groundbreaking ceremony for shrine reconstruction in the town of Futaba, praying the safety during construction work. (Translated by Kyodo News)