Photos, witnesses recall happy young couple who died together in Ontake eruption


Eyewitness testimony and photos from smashed camera’s memory card are helping a family to reconstruct a young couple’s last moments before they perished in the eruption of Mount Ontake last month.

The pair, Yuki Tokoro, 26, and his girlfriend, Yuki Niwa, 24, climbed to the summit shortly before the mountain exploded on Sept. 27. Their bodies were found about 250 meters from the peak.

Tokoro’s mangled camera was found in the ash with 48 images stored inside. One of the photos showed the couple at the summit, energized and happy in the alpine sunshine.

The last photo in the series was apparently taken a mere seven minutes before the eruption.

The photographs are now in the possession of Tokoro’s parents, who live in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture. His father, Kiyokazu, 53, was one of the first relatives to speak to media after the disaster, at a time when it was still unclear how many missing hikers had survived and simply had not reported in.

A photograph of the couple appeared in the media, and he began hearing from survivors who remembered encountering the young couple. “I saw them at the eighth station,” one said. “I walked past them,” another reported.

The pair were inadvertently snapped descending stone stairs at a shrine near the top of Ontake by a Japanese-Brazilian man from Obu, Aichi Prefecture. The man recalled Niwa as cheerfully helping out when one of the friends in his group asked her to take a picture of them all.

He also described them as being tender to each other, recalling that Tokoro spoke softly to Niwa the words “let’s go” as they set off down the slope.