Mika Yamamoto Memorial Foundation



Walking in the stricken area When will my missing friend return?

In the twilight hours at Sanriku-kyo, Miyagi Prefecture, I came to this town in order to look for news of my friend. The place has no light, no one around, where time has stopped. I could not stop shaking myself when I thought there are still many missing people who once slept here. A black-tailed gull flies through the sky shrieking madly, breaking the silence. The tsunami reached deep from the bay, far from the beach, and took many lives.

Keiko and Toshi's house was located at the foot of the small hill over there. But now there is only rubble piled high.
Keiko and Toshi, my classmates at Tsuru University, were a very nice couple. They were Elementary Education majors, and I was an English Literature major. We did not often see each other in class, but we belonged to the same group of friends and frequently got together at the cafeteria or a friend's apartment.

Keiko is a very cheerful lady with a ready smile. Toshi is very clever guy who always scored high in class, even though he was busy with rugby club and a part-time job. After graduation, both became teachers and married. It is said that they worked as elementary school teachers at Kesennuma City. After the earthquake at Tohoku, university friends attempted to contact those in the area to confirm the survivors, but there were those that could not be reached, and they were among them. Their house was located in Minami-Sanriku Town that experienced catastrophic damage.

I go through Route 45, the road running along the seashore. I visit Miyako, Yamada, Ootuchi,, Kamaishi, Oofunato, RikuzenTakada, Kesennuma, Onagawa, and Ishinomaki cities and towns. The scene visible throughout the area is one you never see anywhere.
I look for information of them when I have time during the reporting visit. I take the road from seashore to mountain, visit the elementary school standing on the hill, and discover what Toshi was doing on the day of the earthquake. I understand that he had the day off that day and stayed at home when the earthquake and tsunami hit the area.

"He would have been able to survive if he were at school."

The school president shows his disappointment deeply by biting his lip. Outside the school, the white snow suddenly starts flying as if mournful.
It was nine days after the gigantic earthquake hit the area when I entered the affected area. It was just the time when large debris was cleared to open the road, and people could begin to enter the town and the forest deep within the damaged area.

Onagawa Town is a port town located in the Ojika Peninsula. The sea wind carrying the odor of rancid oil assaulted the senses. And I see a building flattened to the ground. This building was not destroyed by earthquake, but by the tsunami that followed.
A 29-year-old man who was rescued the next morning far in the bay after the 14.8m high Tsunami swept him away told the frightening story. "I was floating, hanging on part of a roof or a board in the bay. I tried to keep my eyes open always, since I thought I would die if I slept." The people who tried to escape on the same roof were gone in a minute, swallowed by the wave and disappeared, he said.

Now, six weeks after the earthquake, the thing that most troubles people not only in Japan, but also in the world, is Fukushima's nuclear plant disaster.
We are frightened by not only the earthquake, tsunami, but also invisible radioactivity. We must be strong to overcome these three hardships.
In March, Keiko's sad note came, but Toshi has not yet been found today. I wish deeply that he may return to his children soon.

April 23, 2011