The Kasagi from Hachinohe

It’s taken longer than I planned to finish this post, partially due to sickness, and partially due to the emotional nature of the subject. I wanted to write the post with sensitivity and compassion, so I put it off a bit, got sick, wrote some, waited, wrote some more, and finally edited it. Hopefully I met my goal and you readers can share a moment with me about this amazing story.

The kasagi with an intact gakuzuka and dedication inscription. A few strips of brass remained along the top as well.
The kasagi with an intact gakuzuka and dedication inscription. A few strips of brass remained along the top as well.

On the 2nd, my partner took me to the viewing of a pair of kasagi at the Portland Japanese Garden. It was a humbling and somewhat surreal visit to the garden, the bustling sale in the main pavilion and vibrantly healthy koi (a welcome sight after the previous koi were lost in the winter of 2009), juxtaposed with the solemn serenity in the viewing area behind the pavilion. Here, overlooking the city and Mt. Hood were two sea-worn kasagi, the lintel of a torii gate, resting peacefully on top of carefully carved wood blocks with small offerings of rice and salt water beneath them. Nearby was a table covered in pens and origami paper for people to write wishes to be folded into cranes – blessings from Portland to accompany the kasagi home.

For me as I stood examining the kasagi (one of which still had a gakuzuka with a legible dedication), I was torn by the feeling that I was gawking at something sacred that had been ripped away with so many lives, and a feeling of reverence and awe that these pieces had made it ashore so far away, yet so close together on the Oregon coast and in time. Stripped of most of their paint, only a few strips of brass remained on the kasagi with the dedication, the majority replaced with seaweed, barnacles, and other small animals – oceanic hitchhikers arriving with the beams nearly two years after the earthquake. The beauty and hope of their identification and eventual restoration at Itsukushima shrine was palpable, the main focus of their display, really, but I couldn’t be with the two beautiful objects without at least a moment of silence.

The second kasagi, with no remaining black paint or brass plating. It had the most visible signs of sea life of the two kasagi.
The second kasagi, with no remaining black paint or brass plating. It had the most visible signs of sea life of the two kasagi.

A vivid memory of a film of the tsunami struck me hard as I stood on the gravel by the kasagi. I will never know who they were or if they survived, but the video was a stark reminder of something I feel often gets lost to viewers of disasters not their own, particularly in our culture of hyper-positivity. Remembering those lost is not the eschewment of hope.

I was not in Japan during the tsunami, nor were any of my family or friends. I can’t know the terror or sense of loss that has affected so many, but I can grieve for and with them. I can remember that while I celebrate the return of objects with great meaning to their rightful place, and with them a renewed hope, lives were lost, shattered, and moved far from their former places. Personally, I cannot fathom only celebrating the good and rightful return of the kasagi and not spending time to honor the lives lost as best I can as I send my prayers and wishes to Japan in the form of a salmon folded into a paper crane. Maybe one day I will see the shores of Japan and be able to give more than just wishes, and maybe even see the kasagi restored outside of the Itsukushima shrine.

If you would like to know more about these particular kasagi and their journey, while they are no longer on view the event page is still active and has a PDF newsletter with the details of their story and more photos. I highly encourage you to take a moment to read it, as it greatly added to my experience at the viewing to know the details of their story and see how different they were even just from when they first came ashore here in Oregon.

EDIT: The event page is no longer live. If you want to know more, the Japanese Garden newsletter covered the kasagi, and archives may be available on their site or via email request.

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