Instead of the usual student trip to Hokkaido or Okinawa, Tokyo high school senior Kazuma Akimoto found himself seeing first-hand the devastation from last year's massive earthquake and tsunami.
“Seeing mountains of rubble, I felt they were very real,” said Akimoto, 18, who wore a serious look on his face in Miyagi Prefecture. "Those were unlike what I saw on TV and through the Internet. I had felt the disaster was somebody else's problem, but now I know people here have really suffered.”
About 380 seniors from Sakuragaoka High School in Tokyo's Kita Ward visited Minami-Sanriku in the prefecture on May 7 and 8.
On the first day, the students watched a slide show at the hall of Minami Sanriku Hotel Kanyo, which served as an evacuation shelter after last year's March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake. The students became silent, seeing a photo of the dark-brown mud-covered town, which had once been abundant with trees and green fields.
On the morning of the second day, the students made the rounds of the town by bus. Destinations included the town building for disaster prevention, where 33 officials died or went missing.
“I lost my brother and sister in the tsunami,” said Taeko Haga, a 62-year-old guide. “I don’t want to see this landscape as long as possible.”
Hearing Haga’s account, a male student who looked to be falling asleep in his seat blinked a few times.
Yutaka Azumi, vice principal of the high school, played a role in organizing the tour. The native of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, lost some of his relatives and friends in the disaster, and his family home was swept away by the tsunami. Azumi said he believes people have to visit the devastated areas to grasp the reality and will never forget the things they have seen and felt here.
But some parents voiced concerns about radiation levels from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in the neighboring prefecture, and the possibility of another earthquake or tsunami. The school obtained support from parents for the trip after holding question-and-answer sessions.
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