SENDAI – Toshiro Sato, 50, a teacher in Miyagi Prefecture who lost his daughter to the 2011 megaquake and tsunami, believes there are other ways than going to court to tell people about the pain of losing loved ones and to prevent such tragedies from recurring.
On Monday, the Sendai District Court held the first hearing of a civil lawsuit filed by families of 23 students at Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, who were killed by the March disasters. The families are seeking ¥2.3 billion in damages from the city and prefectural governments, blaming the deaths on school authorities’ failure to evacuate them to higher ground before the monster tsunami arrived.
Despite having played a key role in investigating the cause of the deaths of his then-12-year-old daughter, Mizuho, and other students at the school, Sato decided not to join the lawsuit.
“I want to tell people how painful it is to lose your loved one,” he said, adding that he believes it is his mission as a teacher to convey the message.
Sato’s daughter was among the 74 of the 108 students at city-run Okawa Elementary killed by the tsunami.
About two months after, during his classes at Onagawa No. 1 Junior High School, Sato’s students composed haiku to commemorate the victims and express their feelings.
One of the unrhymed three-line poems read: “In the future, I want to tell young children about the present.”
Another haiku roughly translates as: “When I look up to the sky, rising above the rubble, I can see a carp-shaped streamer.”
“Their feelings about that day echo in my mind,” Sato said.
He added that their feelings have prompted him to look for ways to teach the children about the tragedy.
Sato said that the Ishinomaki Board of Education has held numerous meetings with families on what happened to the children on that day. But the board’s explanation about why they were told to wait on the school grounds instead of running to the hills behind it has flip-flopped, confusing the parents.
He also said that a report compiled by a third-party committee of experts in the wake of the disaster was far from complete.
According to the lawsuit, the school had the students wait 45 minutes. The families claimed the school officials could have anticipated the danger of tsunami through a warning issued by the local government immediately after the quake.
Sato said he understands the feelings of other families who have lost children and joined the lawsuit, and keeps in touch with them. But he has chosen not to join the lawsuit, stressing instead the importance of having a trusting relationship between teachers and children. To that end, he has given public speeches and keeps on writing his opinions on his blog.
About three years and two months after the disaster that took the life of his daughter, Sato — whose students are about the same age as Mizuho — thinks about his life in a positive way.
“My daughter’s death is what I’ll be carrying through the rest of my life, and there’s no need to forget about it,” Sato said. “It’s very painful and I get sad every time I remember it. And that’s the way it should be.”
Meanwhile, on Monday morning some relatives of the children killed by the massive tsunami gathered at the entrance to the Sendai District Court to pray before going in.
“As kids don’t understand what a trial is, I only told (my kids) that I’ll do all I can” and asked for encouragement, said Takahiro Shito, 49, whose then-11-year-old daughter, Chisato, was killed by the giant waves.
Hideaki Tadano, now 43, lost his 9-year-old daughter Mina, who was in the third grade when the tsunami hit.
“I want to know exactly what happened during those 50 minutes after the earthquake,” he said, looking at his daughter’s classroom.