REMEMBERING 3/11: Sobbing woman amid tsunami destruction makes a fresh start

March 04, 2012

By TOSHIYUKI TSUNENARI / Staff Writer

About a year after appearing in an iconic photo of the devastation from the March 11 quake and tsunami, Akane Ito is pursuing her childhood dream of opening a pet grooming business.

It took the 29-year-old from the Yuriage district of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, quite some time before she could move forward after losing her home and dogs in the horrific disaster that struck northeastern Japan.

A photo showing a barefoot Ito sitting on the ground and sobbing against the backdrop of the tsunami destruction was carried by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Le Monde of France and newspapers in India and Hong Kong.

It won third prize in the General News category of the World Press Photo awards.

The photo was taken on March 13, 2011, the first day Ito could return to where her home used to stand. The tsunami, reaching heights of 9 meters, flattened homes and buildings and left about 1,000 dead or missing in the city.

Ito was taking care of around 10 dogs when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. Only two have been found alive.

“It is so frustrating that I could not save them,” she said.

Even today, she dreams of her dogs returning to her.

Ito said the experience made her determined to protect all life, whether it is a human or animal and no matter how small.

She also said she is grateful to acquaintances who helped her by providing clothes, a TV set and other necessities.

“I want to be more thoughtful and be a big help if I find somebody in need,” she said.

Although she is still consumed by a sense of loss and sorrow, she has gradually become more forward looking.

Since late January, Ito has been attending a professional pet grooming school in Sendai to achieve her dream of opening her own shop.

* * *

The Asahi Shimbun is following the lives of people who appeared in iconic images taken after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011.

By TOSHIYUKI TSUNENARI / Staff Writer
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Akane Ito, 29, attends a pet grooming school in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 13. (Toshiyuki Tsunenari)

Akane Ito, 29, attends a pet grooming school in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 13. (Toshiyuki Tsunenari)

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  • Akane Ito, 29, attends a pet grooming school in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 13. (Toshiyuki Tsunenari)
  • Akane Ito sobs amid the destruction in the Yuriage district of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 13, 2011, in an Asahi Shimbun photo that was carried by many foreign newspapers. (Toshiyuki Tsunenari)
  • Ryo Abe, 11, and his 8-year-old sister, Kaho, head to an elementary school on Feb. 22 in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, different from the one they attended before the March 11 disaster. They said they quickly made new friends, but Kaho still wants to see her friends at their former school. (Takaharu Yagi)
  • Ryo Abe and his sister, Kaho, take a break after the roads were swamped in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 15, 2011. (Takaharu Yagi)
  • Yasuhiko Kanno, 33, patrols Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture, as a temporary employee of the town government on Feb. 9. Kanno said he wants to return to his real job, dairy farming, as soon as possible. (Jun Kaneko)
  • Yasuhiko Kanno discards a bucket of milk at his farm in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 22, 2011. Kanno said daily milking is necessary to keep the cows healthy. (Jun Kaneko)
  • Yasuhito Yamaya, 32, and his wife, Rumi, 32, chat near temporary housing for evacuees in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, on Feb. 26. Yamaya works in a project to restore port facilities. Rumi said she still cannot overcome her fear of the sea. (Yasuhiro Sugimoto)
  • Yasuhito Yamaya comforts his wife, Rumi, on March 18, 2011, after the tsunami swept away their apartment building in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture. (Yasuhiro Sugimoto)
  • At 19 months old, Misa Sakamoto flashes a big smile at Hair Salon Sakamoto with her mother, Noriko, 29, in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, on Feb. 18. (Teruo Kashiyama)
  • A woman bathes Misa Sakamoto in a bathroom built in a martial arts facility at Yamada Senior High School in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, on March 19, 2011. (Teruo Kashiyama)
  • Reiko Obata, 59, poses in front of her home with her dog, Musashi, in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 18. Obata and her grandchildren spent a sleepless night on the second floor of her home after the Great East Japan Earthquake before they were finally rescued. (Satoru Ogawa)
  • Reiko Obata is rescued by firefighters from the wreckage in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 12, 2011. (Noboru Tomura)

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