KUMAMOTO – Shinobu Yamato, 49, still can’t wash a pair of socks that her son, Hikaru, had left lying around before he was killed in the earthquakes that rocked Kumamoto Prefecture and its vicinity last April.
“I feel like I can still feel my son,” she said.
She and her husband, Takuya, 58, have still left their son’s room as it was. And after a year since the earthquakes, the couple still haven’t been able to bury the remains of their son.
Hikaru, a 22-year-old college student, died after the second earthquake, which turned out to be the main shock, hit the region on April 16, 2016. He was on his way home from delivering food and water to his friends who were recovering from the first temblor two days earlier.
The second earthquake triggered a landslide and subsequently the collapse of a bridge in the village of Minamiaso. Hikaru and his car are believed to have been on the bridge at the time.
For the next three months, his parents searched for him day and night. They were determined to do everything they could to bring their son home.
At last, his car, a yellow Toyota Aqua, was found about 400 meters downstream from the Aso Ohashi Bridge, where the landslide occurred.
The vehicle was crushed under a huge rock, making recovery difficult. It wasn’t until August, four months later, that his body was finally pulled from the car.
On the day Hikaru’s body was returned to his parents, Shinobu baked the kind of cheesecake that he loved.
The couple still visit the Aso Ohashi Bridge every week to lay flowers at the place he died. The sound of construction machinery echoes in the background as reconstruction from the quakes continues.
The scenery is changing. But they feel like they have been left behind.
Shinobu and Takuya had planned to bury his remains on the first anniversary of the quakes. But as the anniversary neared, they felt they needed more time with him.
In March, the couple attended a graduation ceremony at Kumamoto Gakuen University to receive a “special” diploma for Hikaru.
“Time has stopped for my son since that day, but I think he is relieved that he was able to graduate,” said Takuya.
The tragedy made headlines and they have received over 60 letters from sympathizers.
A man in Miyagi Prefecture, who lost his own son in the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, wrote that his heart went out to the parents.
They talked over the phone in March just before the sixth anniversary of the 2011 disaster and promised to give each other a hug and cry their tears out if they ever had a chance to meet in person.
During the past year, the couple had a chance to attend the wedding ceremony of one of Hikaru’s friends, whom he signed as a witness on their marriage registration.
The newlywed’s happy faces reminded them of the future that their son would never have.
“But I was able to feel that Hikaru had lived. It was good,” recalled the father.
On April 9, they planted rice seeds — an annual family event. Last year, Hikaru had helped them.
“Hikaru would probably be helping out (from up above),” Takuya said.