New moai statue sent to Japan from Chile a gift of hope

A small Japanese town hit hard by the 2011 tsunami has a relationship with Chile and the culture of Easter Island that spans two decades.

A moai statue arrived in the Japanese town of Minamisanriku this month, continuing an unlikely and sacred bond between the Asian country and Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, that stretches back to 1991.

The coastal Japanese community was hit hard by a tsunami caused by an earthquake in Chile in 1960. In 1991 the Chilean government organized for a moai statue to be carved from Rapa Nui’s sacred stone and sent over to the town as a monument to the countries’ shared resilient spirit against the elements.

Twenty years on, and Minamisanriku was one of the towns hit hardest by the 2011 tsunami that caused widespread destruction in Japan, and the moai statue as well as a bronze condor from Chile were both lost in the disaster. In March last year, President Sebastián Piñera visited the town and promised that a new statue, “bigger and stronger” than the original version, would be carved and sent back across the Pacific.

The statue, which has been called a “gift of hope” by Minamisanriku’s Mayor Jin Sato, was carved by Rapa Nui sculpture Bene Tuki with the help of his father. Along with its pedestal it stands at a height of over 16 ft (5m) and weighs 6 tons.

A museum in Tokyo held an exhibition for the statue in March, and the moai has now been sent to Minamisanriku where it will soon be unveiled.

“I think the exhibition has been a success because the moai, a figure of Chilean Polynesian culture, is well-known in Japan,” Patricio Torres, Chile’s Ambassador to Japan, told the press. “The statue is a symbol of encouragement and a look to the future,” he added.

Torres has visited Minamisanriku seven times since the tsunami, and has overseen a scholarship program, funded by the Chilean government and local businesses, that has sent a group of students from the Japanese town to study in Chile.