Sick and tired of looking at scenes of devastation, high school teacher Yukio Kudo finally decided it was time to submit his wife's death certificate to authorities after she had been lost in the tsunami.
He had given up looking for her more than six weeks ago. Three months after the March 11 disaster, he returned to his town for the first time in a long while.
After observing how life was slowly returning to normal, Kudo, 56, came to a decision. He would use notes he had compiled, detailing his thoughts about his family and life in an evacuee shelter, as the "starting point" to begin his life anew.
Kudo had taught Japanese at Iwate Prefectural Ofunato Higashi High School. On March 11, his house in Rikuzentakata city, Iwate Prefecture, had been washed away by the tsunami spawned by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The body of 20-year-old Keisuke, the second of his three sons, was later discovered, but the whereabouts of his wife, Yumiko, 53, are still unknown.
Kudo was working when the earthquake struck and subsequently ended up in a shelter for people displaced by the disaster. It was here, during his 19 days at the shelter, that he began writing his experiences and thoughts in a notebook he was carrying.
"If I didn't find something to do, my emotions would have overwhelmed me," he says. He remembered how his wife had wanted to touch him before the disaster stuck, almost as if she was aware they might soon be suddenly torn apart. He also wrote about the tormented nights filled with dreams of bidding farewell to her.
At the beginning of April, after moving into housing provided for school staff, he began to write up his notes, prompted by a desire to leave a record of the lives of his wife and second son. He also wanted to document his time in the shelter, the starting point of his post-disaster life. The manuscript of "Notes from a survivor of the Great East Japan Earthquake--90 days in an evacuation center" came to 94 pages (at 400 characters a page).
"If lots of people could read this and feel something, it would mean a lot to me," says Kudo. Indeed, when he passed his notes onto friends, they all read and finished with tears in their eyes. This in turn encouraged Kubo with his endeavor.
Kudo now lives with his eldest son and third son. The latter has since started studying at a prefectural high school. His eldest son is looking for work again--he had received a job offer from a local car company, but this came to naught in the wake of the disaster.
Kudo returned to Rikuzentakata for the first time in a while on June 12, to register his eldest son's DNA in case it was needed to identify Yumiko. Passing by the school gymnasium where his middle son's body had lain in repose, Kudo heard a resounding cheer echoing from inside. It seems that a sports competition was going on.
"To think that all these children were playing in a place that had recently been lined up with bodies. ・ When he looked around, Kubo noticed that the trees had all turned a verdant green.
Mid-term exams had also started at his school and things were slowly returning to normal. Kudo is thinking about moving farther into the interior of Iwate Prefecture next spring, to Oshu city, where his wife's family home is located.
Kudo was in his high school classroom when the earthquake struck on March 11. He tried to return by car to his house in Rikuzentakata city, but the roads were jammed. He went back to the school and spent the night with students in the gymnasium. On March 12, he arrived at the evacuation center.
"My wife, second son and third son weren't there. I was half-prepared for losing three members of my family. At any rate, I couldn't see many familiar faces from my neighborhood."
He ran around frantically looking for his family. He found his third son after returning to the evacuation center.
"He was at school at the time, so he had been saved. I realized with a dark heart that I may have to raise this child all on my own from hereon (March 14)."
"When I heard names of towns being called, they all sounded like the names from a previous era. Nowadays, everyone is just 'Mr. or Mrs. Rubble' and every town is 'Rubble Town' (March 20)."
The original toilet at the shelter was just a hole dug by a power shovel, covered by a long board and surrounded by panels.
"Even the 'bidet' generation needs to use the toilet after eating. Even if our hearts are full of sadness, as long as we eat, we will need to defecate, despite our flowing tears. This is what it means to continue living (May 16)."
On March 24, Kudo was informed by relatives in Chiba that the name of his middle son had appeared among those of the deceased in a newspaper article. Kudo headed to the morgue in Rikuzentakata city.
"So he wasn't rescued after all. We just have to be thankful he was found so early. His lips were pursed tightly together. There was a single line of dried blood. He must have been suffering so much that he bit his tongue. I am so sorry my son. I couldn't do anything to save you."
On March 26 his second son was cremated.
"I wonder what kind of person he would have become had he lived. He could have been a great pianist--I remember the careful way he used to play these quiet songs."
On the way back from temporary bathing facilities on March 27, Kudo walked down the hill where it seems his wife and son had been swept away.
"Sometimes, when I imagine my wife's body being found, my eyes start to well up. I was wearing a mask and there was nobody else around, so I just wept out loud.
"Over our last two months together, my wife kept wanting to touch my body, almost annoyingly so. She would slip her hand beneath my clothes with a big grin.I wonder if she had an inkling we would suddenly be torn apart like this.
"Now I just want to be closer to parents and others who are going to carry on living."
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