MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture--At Hisako Yokoyama’s temporary housing unit in this disaster-stricken city, a cellphone sounds the alarm for an imminent earthquake.
As the room starts shaking, Yokoyama, 42, immediately extends her right hand to steady the portrait of Asuka, her 13-year-old daughter who was killed in the tsunami following the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.
All alone in the unit, Yokoyama often gazes at the portraits of the family members she lost in the disaster last year--her husband, Ryuichi, 44, her mother-in-law, Keiko, 73, and Asuka.
Yokoyama’s son, Tsubasa, 17, attends a high school in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, where they fled to after the crisis unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, about 24 kilometers south of Minami-Soma. Tsubasa decided to remain there to continue his schooling.
Yokoyama returned to her hometown, and says she constantly wishes that her daughter could be with her. Citing “Astro Boy,” she even says she wants to have a robot resembling Asuka built for her.
Asuka loved playing volleyball and dreamed of entering the national championships. She was also quite reliable, and was elected class representative several times.
At home, the mother and daughter often quarreled. One time, Asuka begged her mother to buy her a cellphone, but Yokoyama refused.
Frustrated, Asuka shot back, “I wish you had never given birth to me.”
But the girl came to her mother’s bed at night to patch things up.
Yokoyama says that for a long time, it was too excruciating to recount her experience in the disaster. She wouldn’t even tell acquaintances that three family members were killed in the tsunami.
Late last year, she finally found herself speaking about Asuka’s death.
“Asuka, too, had died,” Yokoyama told an acquaintance when asked.
That remark hit home that Asuka was gone, she says.
Yokoyama pulls out a DVD taken at a school art show that shows a nervous-looking Asuka in crimson gym clothes talking about her future plans.
“My dream is to become a nursery teacher some day because I love looking after children whom I adore,” she says. “When my dream is achieved, I will do my best to work hard, do what I like doing as many times as possible and to have a happy life.”
Yokoyama whispers to Asuka’s image on the screen, and watches the footage over and over.
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