Disaster survivors make peace with past, embrace the future

In memory of the events that occurred on March 11, 2011, representatives from the disaster-stricken areas were asked to speak at an event held at the National Theater of Japan in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. This is a transcript of their speeches.


 

Hisato Yamamoto, Representing Iwate Prefecture

On this day five years ago, I was a senior high school student and, as was our daily custom, my grandfather saw me off at the front door and my father drove me to the train station. I was embraced by the caring warmth of my family that morning, but the usual morning salute of “I’m off to school. See you later” became my last exchanges with both my father and my grandfather.

The body of my grandfather was found a few days later. He was apparently trying to escape when he was swept up in the tsunami. Mother and I collapsed in tears when we found grandfather’s cold body, laid in the mortuary. For days and months, I grieved over my inability to protect my grandfather from the tsunami.

My beloved father has never come home to us. Sometimes, I have pressed my mother for an explanation as to why he had to go to close a coastal floodgate barrier, despite the critically dangerous situation. But today, I am proud of him and respect him for trying to protect people’s lives as a member of the town’s firefighting unit.

Today, I live in the Kanto area as a university student. When I enrolled in college, I remained melancholy over the earthquake disaster and my missing father. I had difficulty settling into my new life at a college and I even frequently thought of dropping out of university. However, after a one-year leave of absence, I began to learn the importance of having the courage to move forward, albeit slowly, as well as the importance of not giving up your dreams and overcoming sorrow and sadness.

With encouraging words from my family, friends and many other people in my heart, I am back at school and studying nursing. I will make my best efforts to live my life to the utmost and to live the lives of both my father and my grandfather so that I can repay the warm support we received from people around the world after the earthquake tragedy. The sense of loss and pain after the great earthquake was heavy but, conversely, it has also given me the strength to grow up. Engraving my father’s efforts to protect the people from the tsunami deep in my heart, I have come to believe that my filial duty to my father is to walk forward doing my utmost to be of service to other people.

In conclusion, I would like to pray for the repose of the lives lost in the great earthquake disaster. Thank you.

Masakiyo Kimura, Representing Miyagi Prefecture

Already, five years are about to pass since my hometown of Onagawa suffered a devastating disaster that took the precious lives of 827 people, fully 8.26 percent of the entire local population.

Dad, I telephoned you many times that day. But you didn’t answer. Even though I asked myself: “Were you not able to escape quickly enough?” I repeatedly reassured myself: “No, that can’t be true.”

That’s because I believed what you had told me two days earlier, after an earthquake, “If a tsunami strikes, I will just run away without taking anything with me.”

You also told me that the date of mom’s discharge from the municipal hospital was approaching. To tell the truth, a new feeling of anxiety crossed my mind. I feared that mom might not be able to escape the disaster.

That sense of dread unexpectedly became a reality. Even now, I cannot forget what I actually saw immediately after the disaster. Our house had been completely torn from its foundations. Nothing remained, except for the pair of matching teacups that mom and dad used. They were found on the ground, lying on top of one another, as if projecting the image of my parents when they were alive. My wife found the cups and they have become the only keepsake that I now have.

The last person to see my father has told me of his final actions. “Your father went inside the house shouting your mother’s name loudly.” Painfully, I once again sense your greatness as I realize the bottomless love you held for mom and your boundless courage.

“Thanks, dad. Thank you for having gone to help mom without even considering your own life.”

I am now taking part in disaster prevention efforts. They involve training local leaders and carrying out studies and research.

Dad and mom, please watch over me from heaven. I will continue to put all my energy and efforts in contributing to disaster-prevention locally, to the best of my poor ability. I will never, ever waste the sacrifices that you made.

Lately, I would like to express my utmost gratitude to the people around the world who extended support to areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

I pray for the many who passed away so that their spirits may rest in peace. And I pray for the surviving families, that their hearts and minds will be restored and revived as soon as possible.

Kuniyuki Sakuma, Representing Fukushima Prefecture

Okuma, my hometown, was a tranquil and peaceful place surrounded by rich and abundant nature that varied from season to season. In spring, we marveled at the glorious view of cherry blossoms in full bloom on Mount Mitsumori. In summer, we perspired as we energetically climbed Mount Hikage. In autumn, we enjoyed the vista as the maple trees’ foliage turning brilliant crimson along the banks of Sakashita reservoir. In winter, arriving swans rested their wings in Kumagawa. Surrounded by this beautiful natural environment, people were jolly and cheerful.

The situation, however, took a disastrous turn five years ago with the accident at the nuclear power plant, following the Great East Japan Earthquake. We had to evacuate our homes. Families were broken up and scattered in all directions to live separate lives.

My father passed away in the snowy and cold region that was far away from his hometown after enduring a long period as a refugee.

He must have felt deep bitterness and grief to reach the very end in Aizu, where snowstorms battered his temporary housing unit. “I cannot die until I return to my own home in Okuma.” I heard him repeat those words again and again as he whiled away the time in the shelter.

For those who remain, we are seized with anxieties and uncertainties that are beyond words. We spent life away from our homes. Families are divided and scattered. As our experiences continue into another year, we wonder: When will we be able to return to our homes? Will a day come when our families are united again?

But when considering what we can do as a family that survived the disaster, we believe it is vital to continue passing on our experiences to future generations and across the world. Our aim is to prevent such sad things from occurring again and to ensure the great disaster is not forgotten.

There are many problems in areas affected by the disaster, such as high radiation levels in parts of Fukushima Prefecture that need to be overcome. Even so, as a representative of the families that survived the disaster, I make a vow once more to the souls and spirits of the victims of the great disaster; I vow that we will make the utmost efforts to continue to promote the recovery and reconstruction of our hometowns.