They were almost identical — the photo of Kiu Abe, 99, before she died and the portrait a retired forensic officer with the Miyagi Prefectural Police drew based on the remains found in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, two months after the March 2011 earthquake-triggered tsunami hit the region.

The portrait captured her soft character from the plum cheeks to the depth of her wrinkles, much like a smiling snapshot. It was the work of Shuichi Abe, 70 — a forensic expert still working for the Miyagi police to pass on his experience — from eight years ago that resulted in identifying the remains that had been unaccounted for until the end of June this year.

"I was almost giving up, thinking that she had been swept away into the Pacific. After nine years, he found my aunt, and I have nothing but gratitude for him," said Kazuyuki Kanno, 80, a nephew of Kiu Abe.