FUKUSHIMA – Living near the Shioyasaki lighthouse overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Himeka Suzuki was a cheerful girl who from a young age loved to paint and draw cartoon characters with color pencils and crayons.
In third grade, she won a prize in a national drawing contest for her painting of the lighthouse. Her dream was to become a designer.
Then, at 10 years old, she was killed by the massive tsunami that roared ashore in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, and other parts of the northeastern coast on March 11, 2011.
Before she died, Suzuki had written a letter addressed to herself 10 years later.
“Perhaps you are now working as a designer, or maybe studying to become one,” she wrote. “I guess there will be good times and bad times, or when things are tough or frustrating, but hang in there and give it your best shot!”
On that fateful day, Suzuki had stopped by her grandparents’ house after school, as she always did. There she was swept away by the tsunami along with her 62-year-old grandmother. The girl’s body was found right beneath the Shioyasaki lighthouse seven days later.
Suzuki’s father, Takashi, and mother, Mikiko, both 37, were left distraught by the death of their young daughter, who was the shining star in the family and always cared for her two younger brothers.
Overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness and sorrow, they blamed themselves for not being able to save their daughter. As they struggled to come to terms with their grief, the parents decided they wanted to do something so the girl’s dream would live on.
With the ¥2.5 million in condolence money they received from the government for their daughter’s death, the parents made handkerchiefs featuring Suzuki’s award-winning painting. The handkerchiefs are sold for ¥800 each, with all the proceeds donated to various causes, including support for those orphaned by the disaster.
In the painting, Suzuki portrayed friends spending time at the lighthouse, accompanied by lively images of a seagull, the sun, and the sea against the sky. One of the young artist’s unique techniques was to paint the sky not in blue, but yellow.
The parents began to sell the handkerchiefs in June last year through word of mouth and at the lighthouse’s souvenir shop, with proceeds reaching ¥830,000. The second round of donations was made to the Iwaki Municipal Government on July 26, Suzuki’s birthday.
The family’s house, which stands on higher ground, was fortunately not damaged by the tsunami. Right next to the lighthouse and ocean that Suzuki used to gaze at so often, her parents try hard to live on each day.
As time passes, the pain and sorrow from missing their daughter grows. But by selling the handkerchiefs, they are convinced that she is smiling down on them, somewhere up in the blue sky.