Ippon Matsu: the ‘Miracle Pine’

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


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

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.

Issue 187

First published in Issue 187

May 2017

Most Read

‘I could be the President of the United States, and still half the people in the room would question my authority’
From Linder at the Women’s Library to rare paintings by Serge Charchoune, the exhibitions to see outside of the main...
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
Ahead of the 52nd edition of Art Cologne, your guide to the best shows to see in the city
‘I'm interested in the voice as author, as witness, as conduit, as ventriloquist’ – the artist speaks...
In further news: a report shows significant class divide in the arts; and Helen Cammock wins Max Mara art prize
A genre more associated with painting, an interest in the environment grounds a number of recent artists’ films 
A new report suggests that women, people from working-class backgrounds and BAME workers all face significant...
The divisive director out after less than six months by mutual consent
In further news: Gillian Ayres (1930-2018); Met appoints Max Hollein as director; Cannes announces official selection
With miart in town, the best art to see across the city – from ghostly apparitions to the many performances across the...
From Grave of the Fireflies to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the visionary director grounded fantasy with...
In further news: art dealer and Warhol friend killed in Trump Tower fire; UK arts organizations’s gender pay gap...
Emin threatened ‘to punch her lights out’, she claimed in a recent interview
As the Man Booker Prize debates whether to nix US writers, the ‘homogenized future’ some novelists fear for British...
‘Very often, the answer to why not would be: because you’re a girl’ – for this series, writer Fran Lebowitz speaks...
The artist is also planning a glass fountain of herself spouting her own blood
‘The difficulties are those which remain invisible’: for a new series, writer and curator Andrianna Campbell speaks...
With ‘David Bowie Is’ at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Glenn Adamson on the evolution of the music video – a genre Bowie...
Under a metahistorical guise, the filmmaking duo enact hidden tyrannies of the contemporary age
The area’s development boom isn’t just in luxury property – the art scene is determined to keep its place too
In further news: Laura Owens’s 356 Mission space closes; John Baldessari guest-stars in The Simpsons
With his fourth plinth commission unveiled in London, the artist talks archaeological magic tricks and ...
When dealing with abuse in the art industry, is it possible to separate the noun ‘work’ from the verb?

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018