In an empty field in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, where many homes stood before a tsunami swept them away, there are hundreds of blue carp streamers floating in the breeze. Kento Itoh, 21 years old, has collected them from all over the country in honor of his brother Ritsu, killed in the March 11 disaster when he was just five years old.
On that day, Kento was in Sendai, his middle brother was at school and his father was in the hospital, so none of them were at home when the tsunami struck their small town. Ritsu, his mother and his grandparents were carried off by the surging waters. Only Ritsu’s body was ever found. The rest are still officially missing.
With his father ill, it fell to Kento as the oldest son to identify his brother’s corpse at the morgue and to search among the ruins for his missing family. He did not find them, but among the mud and muck, he did find something: Ritsu’s beloved blue carp streamer.
Carp streamers, called koinobori in Japanese, are a part of the May 5th holiday called Children’s Day in Japan. Families hang brightly colored carp streamers outside their homes for their male children. Usually, a black and a red carp are flown, traditionally representing the father and first-born son, followed by progressively smaller carp in different colors for each additional son. Ritsu was especially proud of his carp because his older brothers had gifted him with one even bigger than their own.
Discovering the carp streamer in the mud, Kento felt his brother would want him to fly it again, so that he would be able to see it from heaven.
“In the Chinese legend, there is a carp that swims up into the sky to become a dragon. The koinobori are a representation of that. The blue ones in particular are said to represent family. For my brother, and for the other children who died in the Great Tohoku Earthquake, let’s fly blue carp streamers in the heavens where there are no earthquakes or tsunamis. This will make sure the children who died never feel alone.”
Since then, Kento has been collecting blue carp streamers donated through the Aoi Koinobori Project and flying them where his home once stood for Children’s Day. This year, the number of streamers has grown to over 600, and many people gathered under the fluttering fish in remembrance and mourning. Kento says he hopes the blue carp will become a new symbol of recovery for his hometown.