BY Philip Brophy in One Takes | 22 APR 17
Featured in
Issue 187

Ippon Matsu: the ‘Miracle Pine’

An image of the sole survivor tree after the 2011 tsunami in Japan 

BY Philip Brophy in One Takes | 22 APR 17

Dying ‘Miracle Pine’ cut down for preservation, 2012. Courtesy: Getty Images

Six hours northwest of Tokyo, in the coastal town of Rikuzentakata, stands the sole survivor from a grove of 70,000 trees that once bordered the shoreline. In the immediate aftermath of the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011, this ‘Miracle Pine’ became a national symbol of recovery. However, by late 2012, it had slowly succumbed to saline infection. Inventive measures were devised to transform it: a carbon endoskeleton was inserted into the trunk, while artificial branches and leaves were fabricated to fill out its upper canopy.

A meld of psychogeography and trauma-monumentalism, the plasti-­petrified tree is a fascinating alternative to sculpting an edifice for commemoration. Like the A-Bomb Dome left to stand in Hiroshima, the Miracle Pine is an unsettling fracture of the real with its representation. More aligned with mummification and taxidermy (signs of the real that most Western monuments desperately avoid) the Miracle Pine synchs with Japan’s embrace of cyborg spirituality.

Thousands of images have been taken of the tree, but none truly captures its site-specificity. Twenty-seven metres tall, it stands at ground zero of Rikuzentakata’s urban reconstruction, which includes a 12.5-metre-high sea wall on one side, a massive water-lock on the other and a spread of incomplete arterial overpasses that currently thread across razed planes of bulldozed dirt. It’s a chilling experience, trudging through this flattened
landscape to be confronted by a solitary vertical arborization. With its spindly skyward stretch, the Miracle Pine provides a powerful example of how art can avoid monunmentalism by signifying absence.

Philip Brophy is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia.