On March 11, 2011, Ishinomaki was devastated by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake, suffering the greatest loss of life of any city in the disaster. Now, several sites have been preserved as memorials and symbols of the Tohoku region’s recovery.
These spots make Ishinomaki the ideal pilgrimage for visitors wishing to pay their respects to victims of the tsunami, but the welcoming port city also has plenty of light-hearted attractions to make for a well-rounded trip.
Rebuilding and Remembering
The best place to appreciate Ishinomaki’s restoration is the hilltop Hiyoriyama Park, which served as an evacuation point during the tsunami and now offers superb views of the waterfront districts surrounding the Kitakami River estuary.
Here you will find the torii gates (the symbolic entrance to a Shinto shrine) of Kashima Shrine, which provide a spiritual frame through which to appreciate the moving view, as well as several monuments to haiku poet Matsuo Basho, who was once a visitor. The park also boasts over four hundred cherry trees, Japan’s symbol of new life, making mid-to-late April a particularly poignant time to visit.
A short walk downhill lies Ishinomaki’s most haunting memorial site, the ruins of Kadonowaki Elementary School. All staff and students present during the tsunami were able to evacuate safely, but the building’s preserved ruins stand as a powerful reminder of the city’s former destruction.
You can pay your respects to victims of the disaster across the road in Minamihama Tsunami Memorial Park. Once a residential district, the area has been transformed into a vast green space filled with saplings. A small museum offers detailed information panels about the tsunami, with English translations of the material available via QR code.
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