A small Japanese town devastated by last year’s earthquake and tsunami will receive a huge Christmas present after a ship arrived in Tokyo yesterday carrying a 6 tonne statue destined for the community.
The giant present crossed the ocean from Chile, which had pledged to supply a new statue — modeled on the mysterious carvings at Easter Island — to the tiny fishing community of Minami Sanriku after the town’s original was destroyed in last year’s earthquake-sparked tsunami disaster.
The 5m Moai statue arrived in the Japanese capital about one month after leaving Chile.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera had promised a “bigger, more magnificent and more beautiful” statue after visiting the community following the disaster in March last year.
The town’s connection with Chile, about 17,000km away, dates from 1960, when a magnitude 9.5 earthquake struck the South American country.
More than 1,600 people were killed in Chile and 2 million left homeless, but the quake also sent a tsunami hurtling across the Pacific to Japan, where it claimed 142 lives, more than one-quarter of them in Minami Sanriku.
Decades later, the countries celebrated their recovery and, after a visit from Chile’s Ambassador to Japan, Minami Sanriku set up the replica Moai statue in a coastal park, which residents named Chile Plaza.
“People loved the statue,” Minami Sanriku Mayor Jin Sato said earlier this year. “It was a symbol of recovery.”
The Moai are mysterious human figures found on Easter Island off the coast of Chile, where hundreds of enormous figures — some several meters tall — still stand in groups.
Ancient islanders are believed to have built the figures, but details such as how they raised the huge stones are unknown.
When last year’s huge tsunami waves swamped the Japanese town, the statue, like hundreds of buildings in the community, was toppled and its 2m head knocked off its body.
“I hope this Moai statue will help not only children, but the whole Minami Sanriku town to recover — it’s such a great Christmas gift,” said Yasunori Mogi, 30, a teacher at the Shizugawa High School, where the old statue’s head now sits.
Much of the community’s infrastructure and most of its economy were wiped out when the towering waves swept ashore, killing about 19,000 people along the once-picturesque coast.
The new statue will be exhibited in Tokyo and Osaka starting in March and is expected to arrive in Minami Sanriku in May.