National

‘Super volunteer’ Haruo Obata, who found missing 2-year-old, honored by hometown Hiji

JIJI

Haruo Obata, who has been called a “super volunteer” after finding a missing two-year-old boy last month, was honored Monday by his hometown of Hiji, Oita Prefecture, for his actions and spirit of volunteerism.

Police had yet to find any clue as to the whereabouts of the boy, and Obata surprised many people by finding him.

Receiving a citation from Hiji Mayor Hirofumi Honda, Obata, 78, said, “I will continue volunteer activities as long as my body allows.”

The range of volunteering activities in which he participates has prompted people to call him a super volunteer. A mountain climbing enthusiast, he has prepared mountain trails on Mount Yufu in Oita Prefecture for 30 years. The stairs he created continue to allow climbers to mount its steep slopes.

In the aftermath of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11, 2011, Obata went to Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture — one of the three most severely affected prefectures — to search for the keepsakes of those affected by the disaster, such as photo albums buried in debris, and return them to their owners.

After finding the missing boy in Suo-Oshima, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in mid-August, Obata had barely taken a break before he went on to volunteer in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, through the end of August to help following heavy rain that had hit the area. Obata eats and sleeps in his microvan during his volunteer activities.

“I’d like you to join mud-cleanup work — just for an hour is fine,” he said. “You’ll see your work greatly appreciated by people affected by disasters, and think about doing cleanup work for half a day next time.”