Back in 1643, a Confucian scholar named Hayashi Razan designated a list of Japan’s top three views, a list that still holds today. One of them, Matsushima (lit. Pine Islands) is actually a collection of 260 islets with windblown pine trees dotting a sweeping bay on the eastern side of Japan. Matsushima is home to two of Japan’s most famous temples and a thriving oyster industry. Or at least it was. As it happens, Matsushima is about 30 minutes from Sendai, the epicenter of last Friday’s monumental earthquake and tsunami. Sadly, the damage to this special place was extensive, as the tsunami washed over the islands in the bay.
Matsushima has a special meaning for me, as I spent time there for a story on Matsuo Basho, Japan’s acclaimed 17th-century haiku master. Basho was so in awe of the view of the bay that he claimed to be speechless. When he tried to compose a verse that would describe what he saw for a poetry contest, all he could come up with was the now famous:
Basho’s was the winning poem.
Now, as I check out the images of the devastation of northeastern Japan, I have to second Basho’s emotion. Seeing roads, shops and houses swept off the map, ancient temples that have withstood centuries of storms cracking and crumbling and the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen washed away, I’m left just as speechless as Basho when he tried to record the beauty of the scene. Sometimes words are just not enough — one of the reasons I’m glad to be a photographer.