Bamboo Forest, Japan
Photograph by Teruo ArayaIn the Muromachi period, Sesson Shukei (1504-1589), a painting priest, used this hermitage as the foothold for his activities during his old age. No sound except the murmur of the wind can be heard. Tomb of natural stone, countless bamboos all quietly breathing.

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Women With Cherry Blossoms, Japan
Photograph by Eliza R. ScidmoreIn a tinted black-and-white photograph dating to around the 1910s, women pose with cherry blossoms in Japan.
Photographer Eliza Scidmore served as the National Geographic Society’s first female writer and board member and played a pivotal role in bringing the now beloved cherry trees to Washington, D.C.’s Potomac Park and Tidal Basin.

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Bicycle Ride, Japan
Photograph by Sun Jie, My ShotA couple riding a bicycle in front of me, Shinsaibashi, Osaka

What Makes This a Photo of the Day? Many times what makes a photograph special are the small details that you don’t notice right away. I was first drawn to this photograph by the moment captured—part of the blur of city life. But what I love most are the high-heeled shoes worn by the woman perched on the back of the bicycle. —Alexa Keefe, Photo of the Day editor
Following a Moon Shadow
Image courtesy PHL/UPR Arecibo

Seen from one of Japan’s MTSAT meteorological satellites, the shadow of the moon darkens part of the North Pacific during the annular solar eclipse last Sunday and Monday. Despite the diminutive shadow shown, the moon is actually a little bigger than a quarter the size of Earth.
An annular eclipse happens when the moon lines up between Earth and the sun, and when the dark moon’s apparent diameter is smaller than the visible disk of the sun, leaving a ring—or annulus—of fiery light around the edges.

By Tim Folger
Photograph by John Stanmeyer

Jin Sato is the mayor of a town that no longer exists.

Minamisanriku, a quiet fishing port north of Sendai in northeastern Japan, disappeared last March 11. Sato nearly did too. The disaster started at 2:46 p.m., about 80 miles east in the Pacific, along a fault buried deep under the seafloor. A 280-mile-long block of Earth’s crust suddenly lurched to the east, parts of it by nearly 80 feet. Sato had just wrapped up a meeting at the town hall. “We were talking about the town’s tsunami defenses,” he says. Another earthquake had jolted the region two days earlier—a precursor, scientists now realize, to the March 11 temblor, which has turned out to be the largest in Japan’s history.

When the ground finally stopped heaving, after five excruciating minutes, Minamisanriku was still mostly intact. But the sea had just begun to heave. Sato and a few dozen others ran next door to the town’s three-story disaster-readiness center. Miki Endo, a 24-year-old woman working on the second floor, started broadcasting a warning over the town’s loudspeakers: “Please head to higher ground!” Sato and most of his group headed up to the roof. From there they watched the tsunami pour over the town’s 18-foot-high seawall. They listened to it crush or sweep away everything in its path. Wood-frame houses snapped; steel girders groaned. Then dark gray water surged over the top of their building. Endo’s broadcasts abruptly stopped.

Some 16,000 people died that day, most of them along hundreds of miles of coast in the Tohoku region, and nearly 4,000 are still missing. The tsunami eradicated several towns and villages in Tohoku and left hundreds of thousands homeless. In Minamisanriku the killed or missing number about 900 of 17,700 inhabi­tants, including Miki Endo, whose body was not found until April 23. Sato survived by climbing a radio antenna on the roof and clinging to it. “I think I was underwater for three or four minutes,” he says. “It’s hard to say.” Many of the 30 or so other people on the roof tried to hang on to the iron railings at its edge. The waves kept coming all night long, and for the first few hours they repeatedly inundated the three-story building. In the morning only ten people remained on the roof.

Japan leads the world in preparing for earthquakes and tsunamis. It has spent billions retrofitting old buildings and equipping new ones with shock absorbers. High seawalls shield many coastal towns, and well-marked tsunami evacuation routes lead to high ground or to tall, strong buildings. On March 11 government seismologists had barely stopped hugging their computer monitors to keep them from crashing to the floor when their first tsunami warning went out.

Together these measures saved many thousands of lives; Miki Endo alone may have saved thousands. The Tohoku earthquake itself—a magnitude 9—did much less damage than it would have in other countries. But between 16,000 and 20,000 died because of the tsunami—a death toll comparable to that caused by an earthquake and tsunami in the same region in 1896.

Japan’s defenses have improved tremendously since then, but its population has tripled. Its coasts are far more crowded. The same is true all over the world, in countries that are much less prepared. In the Indian Ocean, where the deadliest tsunami in history killed nearly 230,000 people in 2004, most of them in Indonesia, a similar disaster has been forecast for sometime within the next 30 years. In the United States, where a tsunami devastated the Pacific Northwest 300 years ago, when it was sparsely inhabited, geologists say another is inevitable. It’s likely there will be many Minamisanrikus in the decades ahead.

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Geisha, Kyoto
Photograph by Clancy LethbridgeWithin an ultramodern society Japan still maintains traditions passed down from generation to generation, making it one of the most beautiful and intriguing places in the world.
Blue Pond, Hokkaido
Photograph by Kent Shiraishi, My ShotThe “blue pond” of the famous tourist resort in Biei, Hokkaido, Japan is a place where many tourists gather in spring, summer, and autumn. However, since this pond freezes in winter, nobody is there during that period. This photograph was taken during the first snow of the season as it fell over the blue pond.

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