HIROSHIMA – “Don’t worry, go to bed,” wrote Koji Tsunomori to his wife of three weeks at around 8 p.m. Friday evening.
Those words would be their last exchange.
Tsunomori, 54, sent the message as he drove from his home in Yasugi, in Shimane Prefecture. He had yet to move in with his new wife, 44-year-old Nana, who lived some 200 kilometers away with her two sons and her mother, in a two-story, wooden house in picturesque Kumano, Hiroshima Prefecture.
On Friday night, as the rain got harder, Nana had expressed concern. “The waterways in front of my house have been flooding,” she wrote to him via a messaging app.
So he reassured her. After all, soon he would be there with her. They were planning to spend the weekend together.
He set off on what should have been around a three-hour drive, across almost the entire width of the southwestern Chugoku region of Japan’s main island — from near its northern Sea of Japan coast to just along from Hiroshima Bay in its south, near a cluster of inland seas dotted with mountainous islands.
Tsunomori had met Nana for the first time in January, through a mutual acquaintance. Both were divorcees. At first they did not intend to marry again. But in June they did, forming a new family with Nana’s sons Minori, 13, and Kenta, 2, as well as her 71-year-old mother, Hiroko Aoki. The couple had been married just a few weeks, and had yet to move in together.
Early Saturday morning, he was still driving. Heavy rains across the region had flooded some roads, and blocked others with debris, forcing Tsunomori to take detours.
On nearing Nana’s home later that morning, he received news that 12 people in the neighborhood had gone missing in a landslide.
Nana and her family were among them.
Tsunomori found members of the Ground Self-Defense Force conducting search operations in the rubble near where her house should have been. He sank to his knees in front of what remained of the building. They told him, his wife was gone.
“Why didn’t I tell her to evacuate?” he asked himself. The loss was devastating.
The landslide had engulfed the home later Friday night. Finding a body took until noon on Sunday. Tsunomori watched them pull her from the wreckage. The earlobes were pierced. Remembering Nana saying she no longer wore earrings because her children would tug on them, he couldn’t stop himself from calling out her name to the tarp-covered body — overwhelmed with regret that he had not told her to take refuge amid the storm.
Through the weekend over a hundred were killed across western Japan, in landslides and floods triggered by torrential rains that inundated much of the region.
Early Tuesday, rescuers continued their search for the missing using heavy machinery. Nana’s mother and two sons remain unaccounted for. Tsunomori hopes they will be found as soon as possible. He believes 2-year-old Kenta may at least have been near his mother when the landslide struck, perhaps holding her hand.
He had given the boy an Anpanman doll, resembling the popular anime character, as a gift. He has since unearthed it, near the remains of the home.