MINAMI-SANRIKU, Miyagi Prefecture--Ryusei Murata waved farewell to his brother Tensho on Sunday as he left for Tottori, western Japan, to search for their parents in their hometown by himself.
"Good luck! Be good!" Ryusei, 17, shouted to his brother as he boarded a bus. "Yeah, yeah!" Tensho, 15, said in a tone so typically surly that Ryusei felt slightly relieved.
Tensho took a seat surrounded by adults, clutching a few meager possessions: a school bag, a cardboard box and a bag with bread and other supplies.
Tensho had agreed to stay with their grandmother in Tottori. Ryusei decided to remain in Minami-Sanriku to search for their parents.
The brothers have heard nothing of their father Satoshi or mother Keiko, both 43 and elementary school teachers, since the town was swallowed up by tsunami following the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.
When it struck, the family was not together. Ryusei was riding a scooter along the coast to see a friend. When he felt the enormous jolts of the quake, he realized a tsunami could strike and headed for higher ground in a mountain. Tensho was at school in an elevated area and was safe.
Their parents might not have been so lucky. Keiko worked at Togura Elementary School. She had called Ryusei's cellphone immediately after the earthquake, but he didn't notice the call. Minutes later, he tried to get through, but the cellphone was no longer connected. He found out three days later that Keiko had also called his grandmother, telling her that she was near the school.
Satoshi was off work on March 11 and might have been at home. A neighbor saw his father's car outside their house immediately before the earthquake.
Ryusei tried to visit his home a few days after the earthquake, but he gave up about 100 meters away from the site where the house stood, his path blocked by a mountain of debris. He could not even tell exactly where his house had stood before the disaster.
Tensho was staying at an evacuation center set up in an elementary school, with the family of Yu Miura, one of his mother's friends.
Ryusei stayed at his friend's home and an evacuation center and continued searching for his parents, putting up a notice and asking acquaintances about them. He also asked the police to search. His parents' colleagues visited evacuation centers in neighboring Kesennuma and asked around.
There is still no information on Keiko or Satoshi.
About a week after the earthquake, Tensho told Ryusei, "We won't be able to find mom and dad even if we stay here."
Ryusei agreed, after seeing the extent of destruction in their hometown. He realized it would be better for Tensho to live somewhere stable, and encouraged him to take up his grandmother's offer to stay with her.
Tensho will enter a senior high school in Tottori and start a new life in April.
Tensho headed there by bus on March 27, the day before the graduation ceremony at his junior high school.
Ryusei took Tensho to his school to get his graduation certificate in advance. While Ryusei did not utter a word, he thought to himself: "I am sorry that you can't attend the ceremony."
Ryusei plans to graduate senior high school and get the qualifications to become an auto mechanic.
"I am going to attend high school for one more year so I can graduate," he said. "I want to be able to get a job and take care of my brother."
He is thinking of entering a school dormitory from April, when the new school year starts. Until then, he will stay at evacuation centers, continue volunteer activities for quake victims and wait for any information about his parents.
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