• Kyodo

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As Japan marked the fourth anniversary of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of the Tohoku region, relatives and friends of those killed in the disaster gathered to offer prayers for the victims.

Many people gathered early Wednesday to pray in front of a disaster monument bearing the names of 192 victims in Wakabayashi Ward in Sendai, which was one of the areas hardest hit by the massive tsunami.

“I came here to report to them (my deceased family members) that I am supporting myself now,” said tsunami survivor Toshihiko Daigaku, 60, who lost his wife, his parents and two other relatives in the disaster.

Last September, Daigaku bought a home in Sendai and started a new life. He lamented, however, that the progress in reconstruction of the ravaged coastal areas is too slow.

“Nothing has been done here since the disaster,” he said.

Makiko Ito, a 39-year-old company employee, lost a close friend and colleague on that day four years ago. Michiko Konno was just 34 when she died.

Ito says she told the friend in her mind: “You stay young, don’t you,” jokingly, and explained they were only one year apart at the time of her death.

“It feels so long ago, but it also feels as if it happened yesterday,” she said.

Koichi Seya, a 49-year-old high school teacher in the coastal district of Tairausuiso in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, which lost 130 residents in the tsunami, said he went outside his home to offer a prayer for the victims.

“The sky looks as clear and bright as on that morning four years ago,” Seya said while watching the sun rise above the Pacific Ocean in front of his home. “These past four years went by so fast.”

Seya thinks the disaster had a tremendous impact on the way children think about their lives.

“Since that day, I’ve heard many of my students say they want to work in jobs that help people or jobs related to reconstruction of the area, and that makes me happy,” he said. “I’d like to work with them to raise awareness about disaster prevention.”

In the tsunami-ravaged town of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture, about 30 officials gathered in front of the former town hall at about 8 a.m., where 40 staff and the mayor died, to offer a silent prayer for the deceased.

Part of the building will be preserved as a symbol of the disaster.

“As we stand at the forefront of efforts to reconstruct the town, I keep thinking how great it would be to have our old colleagues, with whom we shared views about our future,” said Yutaka Ikarigawa, the current mayor of Otsuchi, in a speech honoring the dead.

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