Out of the earthquake's rubble, bright blooms are providing hope to a nation reeling from nuclear disaster.
When March 11th's massive earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, about 80,000 people were forced to abandon their homes.
With radiation leaks, hydrogen explosions and overheated fuel rods to blame, the radiation spread beyond just the evacuation area, contaminating the ground in the agricultural region. In some areas, even the tea is radioactive.
Fifty kilometres away from the plant site the Buddhist Joenji temple. There, chief monk Koyu Abe and a team of 100 volunteers began growing and distributing sunflowers, hoping to both lift spirits and lighten the radiation's impact.
"We plant sunflowers, field mustard, amaranthus and cockscomb, which are all believed to absorb radiation," said the monk. "So far we have grown at least 200,000 flowers (at this temple) and distributed many more seeds. At least 8 million sunflowers blooming in Fukushima originated from here."
Scientists are currently testing the effectiveness of sunflowers used to battle radiation.
One local villager with a home near a radioactive hot spot found that sunflowers helped reduce radiation to exceed government safety levels, MSNBC reports.
Fukushima City's Water Bureau has launched its own sunflower-planting project, hoping to decontaminate the soil in a popular park once home to annual cherry blossom banquets.
In another experimental initiative, a space agriculture professor at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has planted sunflower seeds in three plots of farmland in the region.
Sunflowers were grown near Chernobyl after the 1986 nuclear disaster. The Wall Street Journal says that researchers discovered that he flowers "absorbed radioactive cesium and strontium from their roots."