April 10th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

In tsunami-flattened town, religious shrine survives

By Paula Hancocks, CNN

Otsuchi, Japan (CNN) - The Otsuchi shrine looks out of place.

Beautifully intact, the ornate Shinto place of worship watches over kilometers of scorched devastation. It is almost the only building still standing in a sea of carnage.

Unscathed by an earthquake, a tsunami and a ferocious fire, some residents believe the shrine, set on a small hill, is blessed and was spared by the gods.

Caretaker Tomoyuki Matsuhashi sweeps the path in front of the buildings, one of them now being used as a shelter for 22 people who lost their homes. He becomes animated as he describes the moments after last month's earthquake.

“I saw the tsunami coming from a distance," he says. "I didn’t know what it was at first and then I saw buildings collapse. A few seconds later the wave was here.”

Eyewitnesses say the second wave reached to the bottom step of the shrine. Many of those sheltering there ran to higher ground and stayed in the hills behind the town.

"Several were injured and had blood pouring from their heads and they were soaked," Matsuhashi says of survivors who just escaped the waters. “So we gave them blankets to try and warm them up. But then we saw the fire raging on the other side of the shrine.”

A gas explosion started a raging fire that reduced the already destroyed town to charred wreckage. Blackened forest around the shrine is clear showing the deadly path the fire took.

Koishi Teruko saw the smoke from the direction of the shrine while hiding in the hills and assumed it had been burnt down. “When I returned,” she tells CNN, “I was surprised it was untouched. God must have protected it, although some people also helped to put the fire out, so it was not just divine intervention.”

Three men stop by to ring the bell at the door of the shrine and bow their respects to the gods. Countless survivors have performed the same ritual over the past month.

The prayers on this day are heart breaking. Residents ask for help in finding missing relatives before continuing the grim task of searching for their bodies. Others ask for strength in the face of the horrific post-tsunami reality.

But to one side of the shrine is a poignant reminder that life was once normal here. There are small plaques with flowers and animals painted on one side. On the other is a simple prayer from much simpler times. One youngster asks for help in being accepted to his school of choice. Another asks for a new baby girl to be blessed. The majority pray for a long and healthy life.

They are prayers that have not always been answered in recent weeks.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Japan

soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Watermelon

    To all you who for some reason think when the article says, "God" that they're referring to your god, stop being ignorant. No one is trying to say the Christian god is the one that saved the shrine.

    And to all of you who are belly-aching that people are saying the shrine surviving is a miracle and "ignoring the carnage", will you, for the love of whatever gods are out there, cool off your callouses for one second and think that maybe in times of incredible disaster and destruction, it's comforting to the victims to think that there IS a god who cares about them, and not focus on the fact that their lives just got decimated?? Just because you don't believe what they do doesn't give you the right to try to take away what little hope for the future they have right now. If fantasy is what you call it, let them have their fantasies, because aside from the torn clothes on their back and the blanket they just got handed from the temple that survived, it's ALL they have.

    April 17, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  2. RobCoSystems

    I'd love to see CNN run a spot on all the other buildings that weren't 'touched' by the earthquake or tsunami.

    April 12, 2011 at 6:28 am |
  3. Muneef

    G Wiz.
    It means that those spots of worship were the purest because of God worship within them for which God had maintained as an example and a reminder to mankind...so as well it says that any soul as pure as those spots God may easily save from such dooms no matter what size or powerful the doom is...

    April 11, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  4. Muneef

    Maybe they should mention the Mosques which survived tsunamis;

    April 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  5. Bo

    So tired about these discussions – if somebody really want to believe that some power have time to listen to petty prayers for whatever.. really let them. I personally feel sorry for them "those religious types" and feel they deserve the right to whatever comforts them the most as long as it don't harm or bug the rest of us.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  6. G Wiz

    So – what they're saying is – that god cares more about shrines than people's lives?

    April 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  7. jp122112

    Koishi Toruko said, “I was surprised it was untouched. God must have protected it, although some people also helped to put the fire out, so it was not just divine intervention.”

    It was a true divine intervention, it would have not needed the help of others!

    April 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  8. Artist


    Here's a challenge. I agree to believe in your biblical adam and eve creation myth if you can clear up these contradictions for me:
    1. FACT: If a brother and sister have a child together, there is a high chance of the child suffering from mental retardation. So if we all came from adam and eve, how come most of the world isn't suffering from mental retardation?
    2. FACT: The stars in this galaxy are just other suns, they are also older than our sun.
    Genesis 1:3 says, "And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light" <- This means that god created the sun.
    Genesis 1:16 says, "And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars." <- So god created the stars AFTER he created our sun?? This is backwards since the stars are OLDER than our sun. How do you explain this contradiction?
    3. FACT: The first humans came out of Africa about 250K+ years ago. But your adam and eve creation myth says they existed 6000yrs ago? That is a huge error! How can your god write something that is so erroneous?
    Please clear up these contradictions for me and then I will accept your biblical story. If you can't, then you have to concede that your biblical creation myth is false, ok?
    You said " You want to believe you came from apes. Taa, daa. I'll say hi to your relatives that didn't evolve next time I go to the zoo (LOL)."
    Wrong, we came from a common ancestor whose lineage split into humans and apes. Yes, we did evolve and we have TONS of evidence to show you the facts of evolution. But when it comes to adam and eve, you have NO evidence. A book of heresay (bible) is not evidence. If the bible is evidence, then i would have to conclude that harry potter is also a true story. Mine, and your relatives DID evolve. There is nothing to believe in evolution, it is FACT.
    You said, "So, keep pretending you were born that way. Hey, we wouldn't want folks to know how selfish and self centered you are."
    There is evidence to show that some people ARE born that way. They don't pretend. Why would an all loving god purposely make people gay? why would an all loving produce babies with bone cancer? why would an all loving god produce conjoined twins or kids with downs syndrome where these kids dont actually understand the world around them? Why would an all loving god do all these things? If you assume there is a god then u have a lot of trouble answering these questions. However, with evolution and mutations, these questions are easily answered.
    Hopefully someday you will really start to use your brain and THINK!


    We are still waiting on HeavenSent.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Bo

      Artist, have you listened to some religious reasoning lately..? Serious your fact 1 could be real... some seemingly perfectly smart people making really stupid statements to justify complete fabrication... Yep, fact 1 might be the explanation. 😉

      April 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  9. Adam

    The shrine was on a hill top. People are so stupid.

    April 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  10. David Johnson

    This article is an illustration of what I have said on many occasions. Miracles such as this, are a product of random chance.
    The saved structure could have been a structure holy to someone, or a strip joint, holy to no one.

    A comment I made a year ago:

    A tornado races through a trailer park, destroying everything in its path. One man and his trailer are untouched. It is a miracle!

    No it isn't. It's random chance. Rewind everything and send the tornado back through the park. This time the fellow and his trailer will be toast. Someone else may well survive.

    Miracles consist of coincidence and random chance. No god required.

    If this had been an Evangelical Church, that was preserved, all the deluded sheep would be declaring that this was an act of their god.

    It would seem, that the criteria for declaring something miraculous, is dependent on whose god is involved.

    You can worship a can of cold beer. And if you have faith and look for evidence, that your beer god works miracles and answers prayers, you will find them. Praise Michelob!


    April 10, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  11. Dickey

    Oh yeah, a supernatural force must have caused this shrine t survive, It must have been a supernatural force that originated from the mythological figure that this shrine was dedicated to! Time to switch faiths, i just found the right one!

    April 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  12. Geraldo

    Maybe being on top of a hill had something to do with this.

    April 10, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  13. Artimus

    “God must have protected it, although some people also helped to put the fire out, so it was not just divine intervention.”

    Religious logic at its finest.

    April 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  14. Exar Kun

    @HeavenSent: Do you believe that straight couples who are unable to conceive–and therefore fulfill the divine commandment "be fruitful and multiply" are condemned to your Hell?

    Please explain your answer in detail. Thank you.

    April 10, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Isaac

    Just because someone wins the lottery doesn't mean God caused them to win the lottery; someone was bound to win, but to the winner it often seems a miracle.

    Anyways, I am glad a structure survived that gives a large number of people hope. Any amount of hope, regardless of it's origin, can go a long way.

    April 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  16. Skeptical

    If this is a Shinto shrine, why would the Christian god defend it? Wouldn't it be a shrine of "non-believers" and God would send them to Hell for being such?

    If God wanted to send us a sign, why doesn't he bring back all the people HE brutally killed? HE caused the earthquake and following tsunami, so that he could leave a shrine standing to show us his great power? If he wanted to show his power, he should bring back the tens of thousands of people dead and missing. Jesus brought people back from the dead, why won't God do it anymore?

    Also, the shrine was on top of a hill, numbskulls.

    April 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Liz

      Ever thought that maybe God works in the lives of people who believe differently than you?

      I think this is a wonderful sign of hope to the people of this town. It seems small in the wake of such tragedy, but I can only imagine what a small comfort it must be after such devastation.

      April 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  17. Greg

    Whether it be a shrine, or as simple a thing as the clock found in the rubble of a town that stopped at 3:20, the moment the tsunami crushed the hopes and dreams of a great many people, each is a symbol given to us as a method of rememberance of something most of us will never endure. May whatever God these people pray to, place His hand on their shoulders and guide them with peace and love through an indescribable time.

    April 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  18. Damien

    Why is Christianity being discussed? A Shinto shrine survived, not a Christian church. Oh yeah, that's right, I forgot, Americans are too ignorant to know anything about Shinto. I've actually visited several shrines, and they are beautiful places, so all you ignorant atheists can quit bashing something you truly have no idea about.

    April 10, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Nenad

      Even if you would know everything there is to know about Shinto, that does not give you the right to claim that god (or gods) is protecting a specific building from a tsunami, on the top of a hill, no less. Thousands of people died, even more were injured, countless families are now without homes. Why on earth should this coincidence be considered a miracle? You know what's a miracle? The fact that the whole world raised their hands and voices together and did something god failed to do – help the needy. We're obviously the ones cleaning up god's mess for the Nth time, so if "god" really wants to do miracles, he should just stop sending massive catastrophes our way.

      I'm sick of praising "Him" for saving one building or a dog that drifted out to sea, but ignoring the utter destruction and devastation that just happened.

      April 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.