UTSUNOMIYA – Akiko Takase drove her son, Atsuki, to school so he could take part in a mountaineering lesson on March 25. She told to him to have a nice day and take care.
She was planning to make him a delicious beef stew or perhaps a hearty vegetable soup when he came back.
Those were the last words Takase heard her son speak before her own mother contacted her three days later with sketchy news reports of an avalanche that had engulfed a group of mountain climbers near a ski resort in Tochigi Prefecture.
In an interview at her home in Yaita, Tochigi Prefecture, Takase, 50, talked about the day of the incident and the life of her 16-year-old son, one of the eight people from Otawara High School killed in the avalanche.
Atsuki Takase was in elementary school when he lost his 46-year-old father to lung cancer in September 2011.
After his father’s death, he went through a period of depression. But he later joined the volleyball club in junior high school and made many friends. His confidence grew when he shrugged off a hand injury and performed a piano accompaniment in a junior high school chorus contest. His demeanor gradually brightened, she said.
It was right around this time that Atsuki took a serious interest in mountain climbing. But even before that, he had climbed Mount Nantai, near Nikko, with his uncle during his sixth year of elementary school.
Later, with his mother, he climbed Mount Chausu — the same peak in the town of Nasu that a group of seven schools had originally planned to ascend on the day of the fatal accident. Bad weather prompted the leaders of the excursion to cancel the ascent and hold a trekking exercise instead, lower down on the ski slope.
After joining his high school mountaineering club, he enjoyed the outdoors, cycling, studying fossils and reading survival books.
“I thought Atsuki was safe,” Takase said, referring to the early unconfirmed reports about the accident on March 27. But there was no response when she called his cellphone.
As the news began to pour in that some students might have died, that’s when Takase began to tremble and freeze with fear.
She headed to the school with a relative who came to pick her up at her home. By around 12:30 p.m., she heard that her son’s lifeless body had been found.
“They found him immediately, and he was transported straight away, so I thought he would be all right,” Takase said. Parents of rescued students were being informed about where their children were being taken, but she herself had not been briefed.
She finally got to see her son at about 6 p.m. A doctor was feverishly continuing to administer heart massage, but his body was cold, she said. When further resuscitation measures were employed, Atsuki’s blood pressure rose.
“I thought if they continued he would be revived,” Takase said.
But the doctor told her they had made “a valiant effort to save her son” but to no avail. For a moment she begged the doctor to continue. But then she grasped the doctor’s hands herself and stopped him from offering any further treatment.
Takase said she wanted to let her son make a contribution to society. The best way, she thought, would be as an organ donor. Atsuki’s older brother, Yuki, 20, who is in his second year of college, agreed. Surgery was performed to donate Atsuki’s corneas.
Takase was also a member of a mountaineering club in high school. She took part in training lessons but never had to practice trekking through the snow, she said, wiping away tears.
“As a parent, it’s my responsibility to ask the teachers what they intend to do when the weather worsens. If I’d done that perhaps the teachers would not have made such a reckless plan. That was so careless of me.”
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