Survivors recall two years of struggle

Millions mark fateful moment while memories of loved ones continue to haunt Tohoku

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Millions across the country shared a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. Monday to mark the second anniversary of the March 11 megaquake-tsunami calamity that struck Tohoku in 2011.

In Tokyo, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, together with about 1,200 others, including three people from the three hardest-hit prefectures who suffered the loss of loved ones, participated in a state-hosted ceremony.

During the ceremony, the Emperor extended his sympathies and condolences to those who died and to the survivors, and thanked the many countries that provided assistance to those affected by the quake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“We have renewed our determination that it’s essential to keep (looking after) the disaster-hit people and sharing as much as of their agony,” the Emperor said at the event, held at the National Theatre. “We feel grateful for many foreigners who visited Japan and went to the disaster-hit areas to encourage the affected people.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged at the ceremony to accelerate reconstruction in the disaster-hit areas and to try to make the entire country more “resilient” to major disasters.

Three people, from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, delivered speeches recalling their hardships since 3/11.

“I took it for granted going to school every day and eating meals with my family, and my mother was always with me — until that day came,” said Rin Yamane, 18, who represented survivors from Iwate Prefecture.

The huge tsunami separated her from her mother as they fled toward higher ground in the port of Miyako on March 11, 2011.

Yamane struggled to hang onto a piece of lumber in order to keep afloat, and desperately called out for her mother a number of times as she was being carried away as the monster tsunami swept inland.

The younger Yamane survived. Her mother was found dead several days later. “Never did I realize the preciousness of my mom until I saw her face at the mortuary,” she said.

But Yamane also said she believes she now has become “a little bit stronger” than before, thanks to strong support from her family, friends and many others.

Survivor Takuya Saijo, 32, from Miyagi Prefecture, who lost his wife and young son, told the gathering: “Wherever I was, whatever I did, never did I stop thinking about my wife, Yuriko, and my son, Naoto,” over the past two years.