1,700-year-old Shinto shrine “Cherry Blossom Gate” collapsed in an earthquake that hit Japan.

Japan was hit by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake April 14. It killed nine people and injured more than 850 people. The country was again hit with a 7.3-magnitude earthquake barely 24 hours after the first quake hit.

The earthquake that hit Japan April 16 also triggered a small eruption of the Mount Aso volcano on Kyushu. Both the powerful quakes hit the southwestern island of Kyushu. The earthquakes caused major structural damage to many of the buildings in the area.

One of the prominent buildings that collapsed during the Saturday earthquake was the 1700-year old Shinto shrine, Aso Shrine. It is one of oldest shrines in Japan. The shrine's iconic wooden gate was also damaged during the quake. The quake caused the main prayer hall of the shrine to tilt. No one was inside the shrine when it collapsed.

Hiroaki Uchimura, Aso Shrine's senior priest, said that he was shocked to see the collapsed shrine. Right after the quake, he rushed from his house located at the back of the shrine, to assess the damage to the shrine. He never expected to see the shrine collapse. He said that he also did not hear the giant gate collapsing amidst the rattling furniture and breaking dishes in his house, during the quake. Uchimura said that he has no idea what to do.

People living nearby are coming to the collapsed shrine to pray, and offer donations. They also collect the spring water pouring out from the bamboo pipes located on the shrine compound. The quake has left the area without electricity and water.

According to Daiji Matsunaga, an 80-year old rice farmer who collects the water from the shrine compound in large plastic containers, the water coming out of the bamboo pipes is sacred. Hence, he would use it only to cook rice and make green tea. He will not use it for washing purposes.

Aso Shrine is one of the most important designated (by the government) cultural assets of Japan. A major tourist spot, it is located near Mount Aso. According to Uchimura, it is unfortunate that the shrine collapsed when people needed it the most. The wooden gate of the shrine has been one of the third highest in Japan. Known as the 'cherry blossom gate' because of its grand, awesome appearance in the spring, the wooden gate now lies mangled on the ground.

The 7.3 magnitude earthquake also caused the walls of Kumamoto castle to collapse as well.

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