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Sunflowers that students in Aichi Prefecture cultivated from seeds originally grown at the home of a 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake victim were displayed during a memorial ceremony on Jan. 17, marking the 25th anniversary of the disaster.

Students of Chisato Junior High School and Shinshiro High School in Shinshiro, Aichi Prefecture, grew the sunflowers from the seeds of Haruka’s Sunflowers, named after 11-year-old Haruka Kato of Kobe, who died in the 1995 earthquake after she was trapped in her collapsed home.

Sunflowers later bloomed at the place where Kato’s home used to stand. Seeds from those sunflowers were planted in many places in the Kansai region and were given to survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The students of Shinshiro started cultivating the flowers after Hiroyuki Miura, 51, a Gifu-based photographer and a Chisato Junior High alumnus, gave them seven seeds from the principal of a junior high school in the tsunami-hit city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, when he was staying there as a volunteer. The principal gave them to him as a token of gratitude for discovering the school’s name board among debris after it had been swept away.

With help from Mitsuaki Kamiya, 34, owner of a local flower shop, the junior high school students grew the sunflowers, which were later sent to elementary schools in Shinshiro. Last year, they managed to collect seeds totaling 30 kilograms.

The students, along with Miura and Kamiya, came up with the idea of growing out-of-season sunflowers in a greenhouse and sending them to Kobe in time for the anniversary.

From the end of October, they sowed the seeds at the junior high school four times every week, and then sent the plants that appeared to bloom at the best time to Shinshiro High School, where they were placed inside a greenhouse.

The sunflowers were also sent to a memorial for the Hanshin earthquake organized in Tokyo by a nonprofit organization.

Tenma Suzuki, 14, a second-year student of Chisato Junior High who was involved in the project, said, “I hope to continue growing the sunflowers now that we have succeeded, and not end the project.”

Haruka’s Sunflowers grown in Shinshiro were also presented to an elementary school and a junior high school near Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium, one of the venues for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, in September.

On Jan. 16 at the New Year’s Poetry Reading Ceremony held at the Imperial Palace, Crown Princess Kiko presented a poem about the sunflowers sent from Shinshiro that she saw during her visit to Kamaishi.

I gaze up at the stairway

leading to the higher ground

where the schoolhouses have been moved;

on the steps are sunflowers

that the children have brought to bloom.

“We are pleased that we were able to send the flowers back to the disaster-hit areas,” Kamiya said . “Many of the memorials for the earthquakes are held in winter. If there are requests, we in Shinshiro are happy to send sunflowers.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 28.

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