Zuigan-ji Temple in Matsushima, one of the sites damaged in the 2011 tsunami (image via wikipedia.org)

Beyond a rising death toll of over 10,800, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan has also damaged a current total of 353 Japanese cultural landmarks, including temples, historic sites and iconic landscapes called “places of scenic beauty.” The Matsushima area, north of Sendai, is among the worst hit in terms of cultural damage.

The LA Times‘ Culture Monster describes the area,

Officially designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, in keeping with the nation’s practice of identifying aesthetic marvels in the natural world, Matsushima’s bay is home to a rocky cluster of more than 260 small islands dotted with pines. In a late-19th century woodblock print, Meiji-era artist Yoshu Chikanobu (1838–1912) compared the celebrated view to a beautiful woman.

A view of Matsushima’s landscape (image via wikipedia.org)

According to a recently updated list of cultural sites damaged by the tsunami created by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs, Matsushima is one of 4 “Special Places of Scenic Beauty” damaged. 12 “Places of Scenic Beauty” are also noted in the list, as is the Matsushima Zuigan-ji Temple, a National Treasure (seen above).

These designations are part of the Monuments of Japan, a government-organized collection of protected sites that are significant to Japan’s cultural heritage, including historical sites, ancient gardens and the habitats of animal and plant life.

The Zuigan-ji Temple is a Zen Buddhist temple complex founded in 828 but rebuilt and expanded upon in 1604 and onwards. “The earthquake caused some cracks in the walls,” at Zuigan-ji, the Agency for Cultural Affairs list reports, and “caused great damages around Matsushima.”

The three other National Treasure sites damaged by the tsunami follow below, as included in the list:

Ōsaki Hachiman Shrine (大崎八幡宮, Ōsaki Hachiman-gū), Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. The earthquake broke the walls, the lacquering and the sculptures slightly.

Amida Hall (阿弥陀堂, Amida-dō), Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. The earthquake broke the wall slightly.

Buddha Hall of Seihaku Temple (清白寺仏殿, Seihaku-ji Butsuden), Yamanashi, Yamanashi Prefecture. The earthquake broke the ranma [carved wooden panel] (欄間).

Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum and National Museum have not been damaged, but both museums are cutting hours to conserve electricity and resources, reports Culture Grrl. See below for more images of the sites.


  • The New York Times has an interactive map of sites damaged in the tsunami, as well as statistics for buildings destroyed and dead or missing.

View of Zuigan-ji Temple, including cemetery caves (image via wikipedia.org)

Yōshū Chikanobu, “Matsushima in Rikuzen Province” (1898) (image via wikipedia.org)

Osaki-Hachiman-gu Shinto Shirine of Sendai City, a National Treasure damaged in the tsunami (image via wikipedia.org)

Japan’s Amida Hall, one of the National Treasures damaged (image via muza-chan.net)

Buddha hall of Seihaku Temple, a National Treasure damaged in the earthquake (image via wikipedia.org)

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...