Rikuzentakata City suffered significant tsunami damage in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011.

Revered as a national spot of scenic beauty, Takatamatsubara was a forest of Japanese black pines and Japanese red pines that acted as natural protection against tidal surges.

It is an oft-repeated story that against the might of the tsunami, one pine survived. We have heard that a fleet of Coca-Cola vending machines supports this “miracle pine.” This is the story of our journey to find them.

From Tokyo to Rikuzentakata City, one first takes the Tohoku Shinkansen to Ichinoseki Station, then changes there to the JR Ofunato Line to board a train just two carriages long, bound for Kesennuma.

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki


Today, the sky is clear and a warm sun bathes us with its rays, but there is snow on the line—a sign that we are in the colder climes of the Tohoku region.

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki

From Kesennuma, we rent a car and depart to Rikuzentakata City. From time to time, we see signs of how high the tsunami waters rose. They are as high as lampposts. Nobody could have escaped such waters.

Approximately 30 minutes later, our navigation system tells us we have arrived. That is, it tells us that we are supposed to have arrived, but there is only undeveloped land stretching away in every direction. There is no sign of city hall.

We check our phones, and Google Maps shows us a second location five minutes away—the car navigation system had originally showed us the location of the city hall before the earthquake struck. Evidently, the maps have not been updated. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami require maps from just a few years ago to be overhauled. It is a moment that reaffirms for us the massive scale of the disaster.

We climb the hill and arrive at city hall to be met by Hide Sasaki, manager of the Hanakita Sales Office of Michinoku Coca-Cola Bottling Co., Ltd. Mr. Sasaki tells us that he previously managed the company’s Ofunato Sales Office, and that Rikuzentakata City falls under its jurisdiction. There is a vending machine that supports the miracle pine situated at the tourist information center, not far from the city hall. We ask him to take us there.

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki

The vending machine is colored a gentle green, and the silhouette of a solitary pine rises up on both sides. Even from far away, the design is unmistakably unique.

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki



A short text outlines the significance of the miracle pine, and shows that this vending machine provides support for it.

But what were the circumstances leading to the creation of this machine?

Mr. Sasaki says, “We wanted to do something to help preserve the miracle pine, which had become a symbol of the regeneration of disaster-stricken areas, and so we held consultations with Rikuzentakata City. There were many ideas—including the pine in the packaging designs of the actual beverages themselves, for example—but we decided to assign a portion of the sales of select vending machines to the preservation of the miracle pine.”

Currently, the annual costs of preserving the miracle pine come entirely from support vending machines. Tourists, locals and others who gather here from every corner of Japan for reconstruction work aimed at the area’s regeneration—they all go out of their way to buy drinks from these machines. 

“Many people wish to support the miracle pine," Mr. Sasaki adds. "I think it fantastic that they can do so simply by buying a drink. Until the vending machines are withdrawn, they will continue to support the pine. Many people have their photo taken in front of the machines, too.”

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki

At length, the miracle pine comes into view. At the same time, we see the green support vending machine. Looking at the pine and vending machine side by side, it is clear that the silhouette depicted on the side of the machine is an extremely accurate representation of the actual tree. 

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki

And at last, here we are before the miracle pine. Its trunk gently rocked by cold winds, it stands majestic. Towering above us 25 meters tall, it is an awe-inspiring sight—a symbol of regeneration. We watch in silence.

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki


Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki

The pine as it stands now has undergone preservation work: a metal shaft has been inserted into the heart of the tree, and the branches and leaves are replicas. Behind the pine, now entirely leveled, there used to be a youth hostel. It is thought that the building bore the brunt of the force of the tsunami, easing its effects on the pine. But, it defies belief that there used to be a pine forest here; for the ground now commands an outstanding view of the surrounding areas. As we stand there in silence, Mr. Sasaki tells us of a place we can observe the landscape as it was before the earthquake.

There is a car park for those who come to see the miracle tree and, beside it, an event space. And, in this event space there is an exhibition of photographs of the city as it was before the earthquake. It turns out that altogether there are 20 vending machines supporting the miracle pine in this region, but only four of them are completely green. Two of them are situated in the car park. Along with the machine outside the city hall and the machine near the miracle pine itself, we have seen them all. 

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki


The exhibition shows pairs of photographs of various areas in Rikuzentakata City taken before and after the earthquake.

Vending Machines in Japan Support the ‘Miracle Pine’

Kazufumi Shimoyashiki

As we look at the photographs, Mr. Sasaki speaks quietly.

“The day after the earthquake, I walked the streets of Rikuzentakata City," he recalls. "There were bodies everywhere. I didn’t know what to do.”

The people who live here—and the people who used to live here—have suffered more than words can tell. And yet they continue to live their lives and look to the future. It is profoundly moving. The tsunami erased a pine grove that numbered approximately 70,000 trees, but designs are afoot to recreate it. The money donated by the miracle pine support vending machines is to be used to plant new pines. The machines will continue to operate in order to bring back the white sands and green pines along the coastline beloved of locals and tourists alike.