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Yoshi Tabata, 88, has been using handmade picture cards for more than 30 years to recount her experience of surviving powerful 1933 tsunami that hit the Sanriku coast in the Tohoku region.

Tabata wrote the story titled “Tsunami” and drew 10 picture cards for it in 1979 to teach her grandchildren a local lesson for disaster prevention called “inochi tendenko” (self-preservation) that has been handed down in the tsunami-prone region.

The saying means that when an earthquake or tsunami comes, each person must run away to safety and not go back to save someone else, even if it is a family member.

She has since shared the story with countless children throughout Iwate Prefecture, including a recent reading at an elementary school in the inland village of Takizawa in November.

Tabata’s picture-card story has gained a great reputation from local residents, as it has made it easy for children to understand the importance of inochi tendenko, and has even been read to students visiting Iwate from other regions.

Tabata said she was once asked by a child, “Do you remember the time of the tsunami while reading the story?”

She then responded, “I sometimes feel like crying, but try not to as I won’t be able to tell you the story if I cry.”

When Tabata was a child, she often heard from her grandfather of his horrible experience of the 1896 Sanriku tsunami.

Tabata later learned of the horrors of tsunami firsthand when the region was hit in 1933, claiming the life of her mother. Tabata was 8 years old at the time.

She also lost her home in the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and had to move to her eldest son’s home in Aomori Prefecture.

But her pictures, which had been kept at a local board of education, survived the disaster.

A native of Miyako along Iwate’s Sanriku coast, one of the hardest-hit areas in the 2011 tsunami, Tabata resumed the show two months after the disaster struck, encouraged by her eldest daughter, Emiko Takahashi, 64, who told Tabata, “You have lived strongly even after you lost a parent, and that strength of yours will give hope to children today.”

After 3/11, Tabata received letters from residents across Tohoku expressing their gratitude, saying such things as “I remembered your story and ran away immediately. It saved my life.”

“Although my story is not very sophisticated, I’m glad if I was able to tell people the importance of (self-preservation),” Tabata said. “We don’t know when tsunami will come again, and we have to teach the lesson we have learned to children repeatedly.”

In 2012, Tabata made a sequel to the story, “Tsunami Futatabi” (“Tsunami Again”), together with her sister, in which she wrote about her experience of the 2011 tsunami and her gratitude for the support she had received.

Tabata voiced hope that someone will continue to carry her message after she becomes too old to do so, but noted, “If I am asked to read, I cannot refuse.”

She has held the picture-card show more than 20 times since the 2011 disaster and gets constant requests to give readings.

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