6 Juin 2016
By YURI OIWA/ Staff Writer
FUKUSHIMA--Evacuated residents of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, have a special gift to look forward to when they make their expected return home next year.
About 240 paintings of wolves from the Meiji Era (1868-1912) that were destroyed in a fire in 2013 have been reproduced, and will be placed in the village’s Yamatsumijinja shrine after their exhibition at the Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art in Fukushima city ends on July 3.
The ceiling of the shrine’s “haiden” worship hall had been decorated with the wolf paintings, each of which measured 40 centimeters by 40 cm, before the blaze.
Yamatsumijinja is known in and outside Fukushima Prefecture for its worship of wolves, with tens of thousands of worshippers visiting the shrine annually before the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Eiko Kanno, a resident of Iitate who is evacuated in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, visited the Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art when the exhibition opened on May 28.
"I am happy that the wolf paintings, which watched over us when we were sad or in tough times, have been reproduced," the 80-year-old said. "I was able to take time to appreciate the paintings before they decorate the shrine's ceiling again."
The reproduction project was headed by Kei Arai, an associate professor of art work preservation at the Japanese painting conservation center of the Tokyo University of the Arts.
After visiting the shrine to interview Iitate residents and practicing how to paint wolves, Arai and his colleagues started recreating the paintings in summer 2015.
In the paintings, some wolves are together with their pack, while others are courting a partner or taking a nap. Arai believes that the animals represent the way residents of Iitate lived during the Meiji Era.
"I really hope that the life full of seasonal blessings, as portrayed in the paintings, will return to the village from next year," he said.
The researchers were able to faithfully replicate the original paintings from the late Meiji Era, partly because Kumi Kato, an environmental ethics professor at Wakayama University, and video journalist Simon Wearne, an assistant professor of tourism at the university, had taken photos of the paintings shortly before the 2013 fire as part of their research activities.
All of Iitake residents were ordered to evacuate after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The evacuation order for the village is expected to be lifted as early as March 2017 except for a "difficult-to-return zone" close to the crippled nuclear plant.