A grisly truth is coming to light as Japan’s Tohoku region recovers from the massive earthquake and tsunami that occurred in 2011. When the water receded from damaged areas, it took much of what had been struck, including the bodies of victims.
Nearly three years have passed since the disaster, but there are still residents of the afflicted area classified as missing. As the country moves on and begins to turn its focus to more pressing matters, one 57-year-old man seeking closure has decided to venture into the sea that claimed his wife to personally search for her remains.
Yasuo Takamatsu works as a bus driver in the city of Onnagawacho. The town is located in Miyagi, one of the prefectures most heavily damaged by the tsunami.
On the day the tragedy occurred, his wife, Sachiko, was at work at her job at the local branch of Shichijushichi Bank. As the colossal wave approached, the bank manager instructed the employees to flee to the roof, which is the last place Sachiko was seen. In total, 12 bank employees have been confirmed deceased or are still unaccounted for. Sachiko was 47 at the time.
▼ Shichijushichi Bank, following the tsunami
Following the disaster, Takamatsu spent whatever time he could scouring the surrounding area for his wife, making the rounds of sites where her coworkers had been found. His searching was in vain, though, and his wife still has not been found.
Last summer, while watching Coast Guard divers who are still involved in recovery efforts in the area, Takamatsu resolved to increase his efforts. “I don’t want to leave this to others,” he explained. “I’m going into the ocean to find her myself.”
Takamatsu’s desire to do something more led him to High Bridge, a diving equipment shop in the neighboring city of Ishinomaki which also offers classroom instruction in Onnagawacho. Under the tutelage of the High Bridge staff, Matsumoto began studying and training, with his eye set on acquiring a search diver’s license.
▼ High Bridge instructor Masayoshi Takahashi
“The first time I went into the sea, I was scared,” Takamatsu recalls. “You can hardly see anything around yourself down there.” Nevertheless, he forced himself back, spending one day a month under the surface until the fear faded.
His determination paid off last month, when he sat for the written exam which would allow him to conduct undersea search operations. Last week, Takamatsu received notification that he has passed the test.
However, legally qualified or not, search and retrieval missions aren’t safe for solo divers, especially ones with as little experience as Takamatsu has. To start, the grieving husband will accompany the staff of the High Bridge dive shop on their volunteer excursions removing debris off the Miyagi coast. Once he has enough dives under his belt, Takamatsu plans to start carrying out searches specifically for his wife, with the help of professional divers.
Takamatsu’s two adult children, who live in Sendai, Northeast Japan’s largest city, are said to be worried for their father’s safety, yet touched by his dedication to their mother. “Right before the tsunami hit the bank, my wife sent me an email,” he told reporters. “It said, ‘I want to come home,’ so I want to bring her back.”
We wish Takamatsu luck and safety on his quest, and are certain that whether he finds his wife or not, his earnest devotion is sure to comfort her spirit, wherever she is now.