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Tsunami Survivors Share Their Stories

Three victims of the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan share their heart-breaking stories of survival with island residents. “In the mere light of the moon, I could see that my house was gone.”

August 18, 2011
Sarah Ruppenthal

The presentation was sponsored by the Aloha Initiative, a locally-based, nonprofit program that has extended comfort and friendship—and a little bit of fun—to earthquake survivors in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy.

Across the Valley Isle, host families have opened their hearts and homes to dozens of disaster victims, including Daisuke Tanaka, Sachiko Abe and Yumiko Nishimoto, the guest speakers at the Hongwanji Mission on July 23.

The audience sat riveted as the three survivors spoke of their heart wrenching stories, which were interpreted by translators.

Article Photos

Four months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami ravaged the coastlines of Japan, Sachiko Abe (left) and Yumiko Nishimoto shared their stories of survival with Maui County residents on Saturday, July 23, at the Hongwanji Mission in Kahului.

In the Tohoku region on the island of Honshu, Tanaka, a 36-year-old highway construction supervisor, said he knew the earthquake was not a “normal” one almost immediately. He described the aftermath of the quake as “total chaos and confusion.” As he scrambled to get to safety, he said. “In the mere light of the moon, I could see that my house was gone.”

He recounted a desperate search to find his young wife and 2-month-old daughter—one that ended in a tiny hospital room, where his wife succumbed to an infection after ingesting a lethal amount of seawater and oil. Before she passed away, he vowed that he would find their newborn daughter—a quest that ended in yet another tragedy.

“I promised my wife and baby I’d make them happy, and I failed them,” Tanaka said, his eyes bright with tears. “We had planned on moving to Tokyo on March 12… if the quake had happened one day later, they would still be alive.”

Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Tanaka said the road to recovery has been a difficult one, but the journey to Hawai‘i has given him hope for the future.

“My wife and I loved Hawai‘i very much and I brought her ashes on this trip,” he said. “It was her wish to have her ashes scattered in Hawaiian waters.”

His family has always had a special connection to Hawai‘i, Tanaka said, which is why he plans on giving back in some way, by cleaning beaches or roadways. “I want to give back to the people of Hawai‘i, after I recover mentally,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why I haven’t lost hope completely.”

A marathon runner, Tanaka also said he intends to enter the next Maui Marathon, and he hopes to move to Hawai‘i someday soon. “My wife and I were always talking about moving here.”

Nishimoto is the founder of the Happy Road Network, a nonprofit community service organization for Japanese youth. A longtime resident of the beleaguered Fukushima prefecture, she lives in close proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. It continues to be a dire situation, said Nishimoto, thanks in part to an apathetic government. Forced to evacuate after the earthquake, she lived in a miniature one-room apartment with her husband and three sons for more than a month.

Fukushima was once a small, peaceful town of 5,000, said Nishimoto, but now “I see unfamiliar faces [and] thieves.” Even worse, she said, hundreds are still residing in shelters, radiation remains at menacing levels, sewage is piling up, water is scarce and the government has not made any efforts to mitigate the situation.

Visibly distressed, Nishimoto said, “It has been four-and-a-half months, and it’s getting worse… there are no jobs, people are living off of their savings—nothing is getting better.”

In addition to the Fukushima prefecture, many of the areas hit hardest by the tsunami are still in limbo, she said, and financial aid has not reached many towns, including Fukushima. “I’ve watched the news about all of the relief money, but nothing has reached us there, not even a penny.” Residents of Fukushima may have survived the earthquake and tsunami, she said, “but they are dying now… we need help now.”

“We want the people of the world to see what’s really happening… we are all really angry.”

Hawai‘i residents can help by spreading the word, she said, and by sending donations to reputable disaster relief organizations and programs.

Local efforts, such as the Aloha Initiative, offer emotional and financial support to earthquake and tsunami victims. According to its Website, “The mission of the Aloha Initiative is to provide citizens of Japan who have been displaced by the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis with a warm and welcome home and we need your help… ‘aloha’ means affection, love, peace, compassion and mercy, the feelings and emotions we want to convey to the people of Japan.”



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