SHIOGAMA, Miyagi Prefecture--When Yokohama city employee Naomi Senga applied for a personnel exchange program, she didn't know the assignment would place her in the middle of one of the nation's worst disasters, or create a lasting bond that would bring her back here on her wedding day.
Senga was working in the northeastern Japan city of Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 11, 2011, when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck the region.
When the powerful quake hit Shiogama, Senga, now 26, was in a city government annex building. She fell due to the strong tremor. Then, after hearing a warning of a huge tsunami from a wireless communication system for disaster prevention, she climbed a stairway leading to the nearby Shiogama-jinja shrine, located on a hill, to safety.
Senga came to Shiogama about a year before the disaster through a Yokohama city government program to dispatch its young employees to other municipal governments for personnel exchanges.
After arriving in the city, she was assigned to the section to promote local industries and tourism. One of her duties was to guide tourists to Shiogama-jinja shrine. Because of that, one of her colleagues jokingly told her, “You should hold your wedding ceremony in this shrine.”
After the March 11 disasters, she became one of the staff members working the window to offer consultations with companies that suffered damage in the disaster, a difficult task at a stressful time. For example, when she told a company manager, “We don’t have information on support programs,” she was shouted at angrily in reply.
When she had free time, she visited the shrine. In its compound, she was encouraged by Shiogama-zakura (Shiogama cherry blossoms), which are designated national natural treasures.
“The cherry blossoms (whose flower petals overlap severalfold) are cute like ‘bonbori’ (traditional Japanese paper lamps),” Senga said.
After returning to Yokohama in 2012, Dai Izumi, now 33, also a Yokohama city government employee, proposed to her in summer 2013. She accepted. Then, she asked him if they could hold their wedding ceremony in Shiogama-jinja shrine.
Izumi was reluctant to do so as he had few acquaintances in the area. But Senga persuaded him by taking him to Shiogama and having him meet her acquaintances there.
The wedding ceremony was held in the shrine on April 30 this year when the Shiogama cherry blossoms were in bloom. Only family members of Senga and Izumi were invited.
However, about 15 local people, who had heard about the wedding ceremony, came to the shrine. The 15 included Shiogama Mayor Akira Sato, city government employees and store owners. Some of them joined in the photo session.
They gave Senga a present, which included the message, “You can come back here any time.”
“Shiogama is my second hometown. I want to sometimes return there and see the progress of the reconstruction,” said Senga, who is currently working in the Minami Ward office of the Yokohama city government.
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