The Coral Trees of Matsushima

translated from the Japanese by

Along the shoreline, the mineral trees have risen from the sea like jeweled hands reaching for the sky. Further out, long branches of coral have joined above the waves, spiraling together into bright red and blue and green—fingers crossed for some imagined future.

Today is the day the world will come. From the window, she can see the media unloading cameras, plotting locations for coverage as they wait for her to arrive.

Her husband stands next to her as she prepares, watching the boats of fishermen gather around the trees, throwing nets and cages into the sea. Only three years ago, the ecosystem had nearly collapsed, the seas empty of the fish and oysters that once built their local economy. But her methods of salt-water electrolysis and bioengineered reef construction have changed all of that. Somewhere below the waves, grafters are fixing coral fragments to the mineral-rich cathodes of rebar and wire-mesh, enabling a new ecosystem to grow.

“You have a lot to be proud of, Mio,” Takeshi says. He can still remember when the trees and the reefs were nothing more than concept drawings, scribbled notes on pages. But they had risen out of that dream, enduring quakes and storms and the wars of neighboring countries, his wife’s lifelong ambition growing like the reef itself.

“I wish Keiko was here to see it,” she says, taking her mother’s gift out of her pocket and turning it through her fingers: a fragment of coral carved into her own likeness. She remembers how proud her mother had been, watching the city grow back to life, even as her own health had been failing. “This is all I can give you,” she had said, handing her daughter the coral piece. “But it contains all my love, my dreams, and my hopes. Someday you’ll pass it on, give it to someone you care about.”

She hadn’t understood that at first, telling Keiko that she would never let it go, that she would hold onto it forever. But then she realized what her mother had meant—inspiration had to endure.

From her window, she looks further out, where colored corals weave together like a mosaic between the islands of the Matsushima coastline. Out there, the waves surge against the trees, each impact sending a pulse of energy down through a rebar-mesh core to generate the output required for her coral structures to continue growing below the waves.

“She would’ve been proud of what you’ve accomplished here,” Takeshi says.

“I wouldn’t be here without her,” she says, remembering her mother’s stories of floods and famine, of struggling to survive for so many years. A few months before she was born, Keiko’s father and brother had been swept away by the sea. Her mother had been left without a home, cared for by her cousins in Tokyo for ten years, but all she’d wanted was to return to Matsushima so she could rebuild.

Mio had been driven by that same need, and for her mother’s dream not to be in vain. And here was something she would’ve been proud of, a city rising out of the sea itself, self-sufficient and strong.

She looks at herself in the mirror. There’s a light threading of gray hair now and creases in the corners of her eyes. There you are, Keiko, she thinks.

“Look at all those houses,” Takeshi says, pointing out to another part of the sea. “They’re growing very well.”

A long row of newly formed houses can be seen emerging from the sea. After the recent tsunami, thousands of local residents are already living in bio-rock homes and many more are needed. Only a few years ago, every kilowatt hour of electricity would produce .4 to 1.5 kilograms of growth, but with new methods of bioengineering, that rate has been accelerated. Now, they grow below the waves like shells in an oyster bed. When they reach maturity, they’ll be lifted out of the sea and given to those without homes.

She notices a film-crew gathering along the shore now, taking footage of the floating farms, where rice and other crops are growing on mineral encrusted plates.

“They’re waiting,” she says.

“I’ll be with you,” he says, reaching out for her hand.

She turns her mother’s gift through her fingers again—her love, her dreams, her hope for what their city could become.

“And I’ll be with you,” she says, placing the coral piece in her husband’s hand.

It gives her strength as she turns to face the world.