Sendai Before the Earthquake

By Abi King | Asia

Mar 11

Photo of Matsushima Bay in Sendai Area, Japan

Sendai, Japan

Today I turned on my computer  as usual, ready to upload images for another Photo Friday post. Then I saw the news: earthquake in Sendai, tsunami to follow.

In fact, it wasn’t even on the news as I used to know it (an official reporter on the radiowaves or television.) It was six small words at the top of my browser, a space too small to command much attention. Until today, when I learned that six small words are more than enough to both have and describe an impact.

“Earthquake in Sendai; Tsunami to Follow”

Just two weeks ago I was in Sendai. My mind thinks I empathise equally with all victims of natural disasters; my heart realises the difference. News of Sendai felt visceral. Breathlessness raced through my chest and made my eyes sting.

I’d been planning a light-hearted article to introduce some of the performers I’d met in Sendai in their lavish samurai gear. Or perhaps the oyster shellers who worked along the coast or the women who threaded Buddhist prayer beads in full view of the ocean. The ludicrous shot of me forced to pose with maiko dancers and samurai warriors.

But I’ll save that last one for another time.

Instead, here are photos of Sendai and nearby Matsushima Bay. Photos taken before the earthquake. I can only hope that the people in these images, who greeted me with such friendliness and respect, are safe today.

Photo of Karantei Tea Ceremony, Matsushima Bay, Sendai, Japan

Traditional Tea Ceremony, Matsushima Bay


Learning how to shell oysters near Matsushima Bay, Sendai, Tohoku, Japan

Learning how to shell oysters

Man in constume in Sendai, Tohoku, Japan

Performing in Sendai

Shiogama Fish Market, Sendai, Tohoku, Japan

Samurai costume in Sendai, Tohoku, Japan

Samurai in Sendai

An Oyster Sheller, Sendai, Tohku, Japan

An Oyster Sheller, Sendai

A Maiko girl performs in Sendai, Tohoku, Japan

A Maiko Girl Performs

Shopkeeper in Shiogama Fish Market, Sendai, Tohoku, Japan

Serving in Shiogama Fish Market

Threading Buddhist Prayer Beads in Matsushima Bay, near Sendai, Japan

Threading Buddhist Prayer Beads…

Buddhist stone carving near Matsushima Bay, sendai, Japan

Matsushima Bay

Folded Japanese prayer tied to a tree near Sendai, Tohoku, Japan

A Folded Prayer in Sendai


Kelly P 4 years ago

What amazing photos – I hope everyone pictured is safe!

What appropriate timing. I can’t believe so many people have died in Sendai. So incredibly sad.

Wanderluster 4 years ago

Thanks for these beautiful photo memories on such a sad day for Sendai.

    Abi King 4 years ago

    Thank you. I’ve heard from most of the people I know around Tokyo, but no-one can get through to Sendai yet. It’s a beautiful region and it’s horrible to see the devastation there.

Kathleen 4 years ago

I found this post today when searching for “pictures of Sendai before the earthquake”. My heart breaks at the thought that any of these people might have been lost with yesterday’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Of course, each of them was greatly impacted, at the very least.

If you do talk to anyone in Sendai, please let them know that people in Seattle, Washington, as all over the globe, are keeping them in their prayers.

My condolences are to you as well, for surely you feel the loss very acutely, having seen the city and its people in happier times.

I’m happy that someone has preserved a piece of the quiet of the city that was lost yesterday. I will not only have a memory of Sendai as a place of tragedy, but as a place of great beauty and culture.

Many prayers,


Debbie Hindle 4 years ago

Really moving. Thankyou

elizabeth 4 years ago

Thank you for the lovely pictures of people in Sendai. It helps me tonight, as I remember what life was like in l947 in Sendai. We were the first boatload of dependents to go to Sendai, after WW2. I was 17. I have many happy memories of the year I spent there, and it is so very sad tonight to think of what has happened there today. I lived up on a hill overlooking a river. I will never know if the house survived the tsunami. I am watching the news and so sorry for those who are going through this. I also am wondering about Matsushima. It is the most beautiful place in the world. I hope it still is and that it was not hurt by the tsunami.

Thanks for posting these photos, Abig, it’s extremely lucky for us that you saw Sendai and the surrounding area so recently, so we can see what it was like. As you say, I’m sure everyone’s thoughts are with all the people there after such a terrible event.

ayngelina 4 years ago

Such beautiful photos, what a lovely tribute Abi.

Kristijan 4 years ago

Unfortunately, looks like science is right about Earth evolution and if raising sea levels also become reality, based on the fact that most of the worlds population lives along the coastlines, future will bring more of the same even after smaller earthquakes. In the moments like this memories get lost forever locally but are preserved by travelers like yourself.
Someday, someone in Japan, family or friend may thank you for taking a photo of their dear ones.

miki 4 years ago

A wonderful collection of pictures, Matsushima has a warm place in my heart, Sendai could offer the best and freshest fish, sushi, and sashimi in all Japan – when this catstrophe passes, I know they will rebuild! I too have not heard from my friends there and I am very very worried.

Debi Lander 4 years ago

Thanks for sharing your warm and now heart wrenching photos of the people of Sendai. I look forward to reading your story.

Nicole 4 years ago

These photos are so powerful, Abi. Each one shows such contentment & peace. I hope of people of Sendai find that again.

Suzy Santos 4 years ago

Thanks for sharing this. May I re-post them on my FB page so people would know how Sendai was before and not just the disaster that it is now. Our heartfelt condolences to all tsunami victims & survivors who lost their loved ones

Abi King 4 years ago

It has been incredibly moving reading these comments. Thank you to everyone who took the trouble to write. @Suzy – please do repost this on your facebook page or anywhere else where you feel it would be useful.

It’s still not clear what has and hasn’t been destroyed in the area – although I did hear some unexpectedly good news this morning. An email from someone who works in Sendai – alive and (relatively) well.

KathrynTravels 4 years ago

What a lovely post Abi. Thank you for sharing!

Bluegreen Kirk 4 years ago

Wow…amazing that you were there a few weeks before the earthquake and Tsunami hit. Luckily you were gone before things happen. Hopefully they get the support and supplies they need.

Scott 4 years ago

I was in Matshuima bay 3 weeks ago and was taken with the place I hope it has not been to badly damaged by the after effects of the quake my thoughts are with the people of the district

Abi King 4 years ago

PS – If anyone wants to help by contributing to charities near Sendai, you can find a list here:

lara dunston 4 years ago

Abi – just saw this post, somehow missed it at the time. Wow! We were in Bangkok at the time with access to 24 hour international news channels (how I miss them here in Australia) and I remember watching the tsunami footage live on television. How frightening. I’ve been wondering and imagining what the area must have looked like, so I’m so pleased to see these images, but saddened at the same time. Have you heard from anyone since?

    Abi King 4 years ago

    Hi Lara – Just saw this today and realised that for some reason my original reply never appeared…

    I heard from my interpreter and the tourist board team from Sendai – all were well, although shaken, with varying degrees of property loss.

    As for the individuals in these photos – I’ve never been able to find out properly. Both the fish market and tea house were right by the water’s edge so I imagine they would have been directly affected…

    After a little more time has passed, I will get in touch again and see what else I can find out…

    So incredibly sad – such a beautiful place with such friendly people.

Jim 3 years ago

I was born in Sendai in 1948 to American parents. It has been more than a year and a half since the tsunami and I still mourn for the people of Sendai every day.

    Abi King 3 years ago

    Hi Jim.

    I know what you mean. I think that once grief touches you, a part of you is never quite the same again.

    I still wonder – and I still don’t know what happened to the people in these photos.

    Thank you so much for coming here and taking the time to comment. Abi

Abi King a couple of years ago

Yes. A complete tragedy. Chilling.

Comments are closed