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. CatS

    Studies have shown that most people can't stand events for which there is no clear cause or reason. So they attribute these events to God. People feel helpless when faced with random events. Believing God controls such events gives them some feeling that they can control them by prayer or in some other way appeasing God.
    This whole thing reminds me of the one lone house that survived the hurricane in Texas a few years back. All the houses on the island were flattened except this one house. Of course, in this case we found superior construction to be the cause – so no miracle.

    April 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  2. James

    Most religions have one same belief, treat others as you would want to be treated. But considering it is so easy to persecute that which is different, or twist religion to justify your actions, the likely hood of this going through is slim and none.
    Besides, people have claimed to know what their diety wants, but in truth, no matter the diety that you worship, they are so far above us, that we have no chance to fully understand what or why they do.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  3. LouAz

    "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

    April 10, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  4. debbie338

    If it had been a Christian church, you can bet its congregation would be praising God for a miracle. Since it's not Christian, what do Christians have to say on the subject of another set of Gods saving a pagan worship site? They obviously have just as much power as the Christian God.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • LouAz

      Hey, my god(s) can kill more of his believers than your god(s). Reminds me of Abbot and Costello- Who's on first ?

      April 10, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  5. The religious = proud to be ignorant

    Just a few months ago an earthquake hit a city called CHRISTCHURCH (the most Christian name you could ever give to a city).
    In that city is a giant cathedral that was completely flattened by the earthquake.

    God must be pretty fussy in the architecture his worshipers choose for his "house".

    April 10, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • 12-21-12

      You're a tad confused.

      There is God (in Heaven), and there are gods (here on the earth).

      But they're not true gods, but rather demons (hell's angels).

      So when satan and his angels cause destruction, you and billions of others blame God in Heaven.

      An easy mistake to make if you can't see the truth.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • 12-21-12

      God is good

      gods are evil

      Christianity is good

      religion is evil

      Most of us sinners tie christianity, religion, god, and gods all into one big lie!!!

      But these similar things are as different as night and day.

      Most religions do good things, but they are imperfect! Just look at the Vatican and the Catholics for example.

      Child abuse is rampant there. AND they are causing overcrowding of the planet by telling their sheep that birth control is some kind of sin.

      And Hispanics are flooding the US with all of these babies...you know if the world doesn't end on 12-21-12...there would eventually be a Hispanic president one day.

      I know I am being racist while trying to explain Christian principles, but it's all the truth.

      And everyone knows what race beat the Giants fan at Dodger stadium!

      April 10, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • LetsThink123

      I reckon u r completely confused, actually deluded is a better word. Show me god in heaven, show me satan. To me they are just imaginary figures. Satan was created to blame all the bad things that happen on earth on him. By saying that god in heaven doesn't want to or doesn't have the power to stop the tsunami (satan's doing) from killing all those people, further shows that the god in heaven doesn't exist.

      April 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  6. Peace2All

    l'm not so much interested in the metaphysical debate if this is a sign from God/s or not that this shrine happened to survive.

    I'm more interested in that if it is something that is sacred to some of the Ja-panese...and it helps them get through the day, with all that has happened and still happening in their country...that's alright with me.

    And if a bit of 'faith' in something is all that they have to hang on to right now,... again... that's alright with me.


    April 10, 2011 at 2:04 am |
  7. HotAirAce

    So water not reaching the top of a hill is a sign of god(s)? I would be impressed if the water reached higher spots but miraculously did not here.

    April 10, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  8. 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.


    April 8, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • debbie338

      I always love the ones who say that they survived because they prayed to God to save them. Does that mean the little girl in the next trailer down died because she didn't pray hard enough?

      April 10, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  9. doctore0

    You know... Crazy News Network 🙂

    April 8, 2011 at 4:53 am |
  10. theoldadam

    What a beautiful building.

    There is NOTHING really going on in there that will help a person in the next life...but it's a nice building.

    April 8, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  11. Secular Heathen

    What a miracle. Around 9,000 people died but this one shrine is still standing.

    April 8, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  12. Fredrica

    God saves his houses, even those of the misguided, and righteously punishes those who are misguided with earthquakes and tsunamis and old age and food poisoning in their pickle relish. So American women wear your head scarves like the founding fathers really wanted, because you are ugly if you are not submissive and obedient like the Bible says.

    April 7, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Secular Heathen

      I guess you don't understand the golden calf story. Figures because studies suggest we atheists have a better understanding of religious texts then the religious.

      April 8, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Yes Secular, only 2 made it out of the dessert. The rest stayed in the wilderness because they'd rather believe in a stupid golden calf.

      I suppose your phony teacher told you otherwise that it means something else. Talk about being a KA to ace the class. Why don't you figure out why so many people tell you fairy tales about your heritage in the Bible. It amazes me how manipulated this generation is not to believe in your Heavenly father who created ALL. Oooh, maybe because you'd have to pick up a Bible and read it. Oooh, not like the cheat sheets to buy to pass a class (LOL).


      April 8, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • Secular Heathen

      I guess you don't understand the golden calf story. Figures because studies suggest we atheists have a better understanding of religious texts then the religious. Or y

      April 8, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Secular Heathen

      Ok your slow so you don't understand the moral of the story, your fantasy god hates when people worship other beliefs other then him. Then again your Christian. I don't even think one Christian on the planet understands what no other gods before me means. That would include your precious Jesus.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • debbie338

      Ok, HeavenSent, I can't resist. You're saying 2 made it out of the dessert. Does that mean the rest of them drowned in chocolate pudding??!! Dessert is what you eat; the desert is the big, sandy dry place. 🙂

      April 10, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • LetsThink123

      I have a proposition for you. You, and me, and no one else, wants to be a hypocrite right? I mean come one, no one wants to be a hypocrite.
      So check it out: If you are afraid of getting swine flu, DO NOT go to the doctor to get the vaccination. Why? Because the swine flu virus was traced on the evolutionary tree to see how it mutated and thus develop a vaccine that works against it. Since u reject evolution, then don't get the vaccination created by using the theory of evolution. If u do, u are a hypocrite!
      Secondly, almost all new antibiotics are designed using the facts of evolution. So if u get sick, please don't go to the doctor to get the cure. Just pray to Jesus and u will be cured! Then i would agree that u r not a hypocrite.

      April 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  13. Peace2All

    Really not interested if this is a sign from God/s or not that this shrine happened to survive.

    I'm more interested in that if it is something that is sacred to some of the Ja-panese...and it helps them get through the day, with all that has happened and still happening in their country...that's alright with me.


    April 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • dave

      finally somebody said something positive about this story. The majority of the commentors here amaze me how ignorant they really are.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • K~

      So true. Otsuchi is a beautiful town with amazing people. I was there a few years ago and never wanted to leave. Now the shrine stands to give the People of Otsuchi hope to rebuild. And peace for those that they lost.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  14. TheRationale

    Of course this would happen. Some religious place is left untouched (well who cares about all those that are gone anyway) and people think it divine intervention or some such silly sign.

    April 7, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  15. PraiseTheLard

    "The shrine at Otsuchi survived while all else was destroyed."

    Yes... truly a miracle!!!

    Or not...

    April 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  16. David Johnson

    This was truly a sign from the one true god! A miracle! God has at last revealed Himself.

    Jesus, who? LOL!

    If this had been an Evangelical church, the fundie pukes would have wet themselves. LOL 'till my sides ache.

    Cheers my believers!

    Darn! Bet this stings.

    April 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      David, you prove these scriptures to be true.

      2 Thessalonians 2:11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

      2 Thessalonians 2:12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.


      April 7, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • God

      Yes, that's my favorite passage also. I make people believe in lies, then punish them for believing in lies. That's my thing. Love to do that. It's like Adam and Eve. I made them as they were – I'm omniscient and omnipotent you know – and when they did the nasty, I punished not only them but all of the human race. I make gay people, then I have my dingbats, uh, followers oppress them. I make black people, and I make people who hate them and turn them into slaves. I send me, my son, me, my son, me, my son (sounds like Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown", doesn't it?) to Earth so that I/he dies a lousy death so that the dingbats can feel guilty about it, even though they weren't there and of course there is nothing scary about death when you are immortal.

      That's my thing. I love it. I'm God, what are you going to do about it, huh?

      April 7, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      So much for your knowledge of the Bible. Adam and Eve have nothing to do with the 6th day creation. Adam and Eve were created on the 8th day to start the lineage of bringing forth Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus the Christ. The 6th day creation was all of mankind (all the races). Two different creations. You'd get that straight if you ever opened the Bible and read it instead of bashing what you obviously don't know.

      As for the lies. You do that to yourself. Jesus just obliges you. If you don't want to believe, you stroke your own ego to not believe. Same thing if you want to believe and do the research to understand your history. You own your own mindset. 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). Also, there is a bridge across the coast in New York City folks can sell you. You can own the Brooklyn bridge if you are that gullible. I'm sure a big bang won't come along and huff and puff it down.

      Oh, still miffed about being g-ay. You own it. Sorry you don't want to be fruitful and multiply. Still scared that you have to take responsibility in life with the opposite s$x, children, in-laws, responsibilities. Let's just opt out and stay with same s3x partners to get your fill and not have to take any responsibility for your actions to produce any babies (choke, choke, it cost money that you want to spend on you, you, you). So, keep pretending you were born that way. Hey, we wouldn't want folks to know how selfish and self centered you are.



      April 8, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • God

      My very favorite thing to do is make people who are really mean and neasty and hate-filled and crazy, people like HeavenSent, and make them really religious. I make them so they do all this nasty stuff in my name, all the while being sure they will go to heaven. Then, when they die, SURPRISE! Off to hell with them.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • LetsThink123

      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!

      April 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Artist

      LetsThink123, i suspect you will not get an answer from HeavenSent. I think she/he will have to sidestep your questions. lol

      April 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  17. ScottK

    So I guess that means HeavenSent would agree that God spared it because he does consider it one of "his"... right?

    April 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      ScottK, the parable of the sewer throw four types of seeds. Some seeds fall upon rock and are scorched by the sun.

      My advise. Stay off that sand pile of your and put your sunscreen on. You are burnt.


      April 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  18. Miles

    Maybe all you Christians are wrong. Are you sure you backed the right horse?
    Better pay attention, GOD might be trying to tell you something.

    April 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Have fun roasting Miles. You send yourself to the eternal flames for not reading Jesus letter (the Bible) He wrote to all of us.


      April 8, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • LetsThink123

      I see that you are really gullible as you have bought this christianity story hook, line and sinker. Seems to me your rational brain turns off when it comes to discussing your god.

      April 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  19. Jose Sanchez

    An 'act of God' killing tens of thousands yields increased worship of God? Sounds like an abusive relationship.

    April 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      It must be nice not having to serve in this war, just sit on your butt and post stupidity all day.

      As you were.


      April 8, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • Carmine Monoxide

      Amen! An abusive relationship indeed.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  20. Tony

    Would they have made such a fuss if it was an outhouse that survived? **it happens, you know!

    April 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      ScottK, with no eyes to see, nor ears to hear. You can wait for the phony heavensent to give you what you want.


      April 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Tony

      What the f? Whoever you are, why don't you go talk to the voices in your head somewhere else, alright? I don't need this.

      April 8, 2011 at 1:55 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Get a grip brat boy with temper tantrum. I was writing below and the system sent my post to yours. After viewing your welcome, I'd prefer to move on.


      April 8, 2011 at 7:26 am |
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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.