TOKYO: Remembering Japan's quake-tsunami disaster, one child writes how the earth rumbled and roared, another recalls that the black wave stank and a third, who lost her friend, calls the tsunami “greedy”.
The stories – simply written, touching and often heart-breaking – are among a collection of children's essays published in a book titled “Tsunami” that has touched a nerve in the traumatised nation.
The language is often innocent and unpolished, but the stories are so direct and powerful that to many readers they convey the horror of the disaster as deeply as anything else that has been written about March 11.
The man behind the book, journalist Ken Mori, said he decided to chronicle the seismic calamity, which claimed more than 20,000 lives and sparked the Fukushima nuclear emergency, “through the eyes of children”.
In the dark and icy weeks after the quake, he visited evacuation centres in 10 towns and cities and asked about 100 children there, aged between five and 17, to write down their memories of the catastrophe.
“The children struggled to recall what they had felt with their five senses,” Mori, 43, told AFP. “They lacked skill in writing, but I think the readers felt their works were vivid and real.”
The quake struck almost half a year ago at 2:46 pm, 130 kilometres (80 miles) off the coast. The monster waves swallowed sea walls, buildings, vehicles and people, surging to heights of up to 40 metres (130 feet).
“The earth rumbled with a roar,” recalled 11-year-old Yui Muto, who fled to the roof of her school before the tsunami ripped through her city of Natori. “I thought to myself for the first time, 'It's all over now'.”Another child, 11-year-old Hayato Hirose, wrote that he was on his way home from school in the fishing town of Ishinomaki, and that he escaped to the building of a driving school when the tsunami hit.
“From the window, I could see a person swimming desperately but finally drown,” he wrote. “Then I saw people stuck inside a car, calling for help.
“The car sank within a few minutes and a young man came to their rescue. Three people were saved but one of them died later from the cold.”After he was rescued from the isolated building, the boy remembered, what he saw in the devastated town around him was “a lot of bodies”.
Another survivor, eight-year-old Mai Nakamura, wrote that “the tsunami was blackish in colour. It smelled bad.”
Haruna Sato, 7, has lost one of her friends and had to say goodbye to another whose family abandoned their washed-away town. She summed up her feeling with the words “the tsunami was greedy”.
The children did not write only about the destruction, deaths in the family or the hard life in public shelters, but also about the joy of being alive, their gratitude for rescue and relief efforts and their hopes for the future.
Shota Kumagai, 10, wrote about the day when his best friend came to see him at his shelter in Kesennuma.
“He cried his heart out. When I asked him why, he said, 'Aren't we friends?' I couldn't have felt any happier. I thought that a person who cries for me is my true friend.” Chiyo Yahata, an 11-year-old girl in Otsuchi, where one tenth of the population of 15,000 perished, wrote about her missing mother.
In her essay, written after Mori visited in mid-May, she vowed to “definitely find my mother and live in harmony” with both her parents.
Mori said that by that stage she had not talked to her father about how she felt about her missing mother.
By late June, Chiyo had given up hope for her mother and started to focus more on her surviving parent, telling him, “I love you Daddy”, said Mori.
Some of the writers had to overcome initial reluctance with soul-searching.
One junior high school girl wrote an essay and then handed a letter to Mori that said, “I thought I would put a full-stop to a certain feeling in my mind by writing this essay... Now I say goodbye to my crying self,” she wrote. “I will live on with the belief that there is a tomorrow for a smiling face.”
The book has gone into a third print run with 140,000 copies on the market, drawing favourable reviews since it was published in late June.
Schools across the country have asked for permission to use the book in classes or as a subject in storytelling sessions, Mori said.
Three readers have separately offered to translate it into English and the book's publisher, Bungeishunju Co., is considering the proposals.