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On March 11, 2011, I lost my three children—my two daughters and my son—in the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan. I also lost my home. We lived about 300 meters from the sea in Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture. I often used to tell my children, “If anything happens, I will be here to protect you.” Yet, on that fateful day, it was I who had taken them home. I could not forgive myself for failing to live up to my words and blamed myself for making the wrong decision.
From that day, my wife Ayako and I lost all sense of purpose in life and spent days and days in tears.
As if trying to bury the pain of losing our children, shortly after the earthquake, we volunteered to take responsibility for the running of the evacuation center where we had taken refuge. We secured supplies, ensured people’s safety and worked round the clock.
However, when those initial hectic times passed, the harsh reality of our loss struck. Because of the high death toll from the earthquake and tsunami, there was such a high demand for the services of the crematorium that we could not even cremate our children’s bodies. Instead, we had to bury them temporarily.
At the burial, overwhelmed with bitter remorse and sorrow, I physically collapsed. In September 2011, six months after the disaster, we were finally able to cremate our children. Only Ayako, my mother and I were there to send them off. It was the second and final sorrowful farewell.
The purpose of my prayer was not to banish grief, but to bring forth my inner strength.
In the weeks immediately after the earthquake, I constantly told myself to keep moving forward. However, as time went by, I began to embrace my true feelings and thought that if I allowed myself to slow down, even for a little while and “dig beneath my feet” as it were, I might find some answers and be able to start accepting the situation. For me this was in a sense forward progress, and this change in my way of thinking made me feel a little better.
One day, a fellow Soka Gakkai member tried to encourage me by saying, “When you jump, you first bend your knees, don’t you? This also applies to life. The further we go down, the more powerfully we can bounce back.” I wanted to understand and realize this in my own life and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo earnestly as never before. As I chanted, I shed many tears of sorrow and frustration.
I began to realize that the purpose of my prayer was not to banish grief, but to bring forth my inner strength to enable me to embrace my grief. When I realized that this was what my faith was for, I could at last see the happy smiling faces of my three children. I felt deeply grateful for all the encouragement I had received, including messages sent to the members in Tohoku by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. I feel very proud to be a Soka Gakkai member.
I am a carpenter and, in May 2011, I was asked to make some bookshelves. Taylor Anderson, from the U.S., was an assistant English teacher at various kindergartens and schools in Ishinomaki. She had taught all of my children. Sadly, she was also killed in the tsunami. In her honor, her parents donated books to the seven places where she had taught and asked me to make shelves to house these books. I could just imagine children reading the books, their eyes sparkling.
On December 5, 2013, one thousand days after the earthquake, the last set of shelves was completed and I delivered them to the kindergarten. Taylor’s parents traveled from the U.S. for the presentation ceremony. When the children first saw the shelves, they gently stroked them with their little hands and seemed to like the fresh smell of wood. I could feel my children there too. I felt as if they were saying: “Well done Dad!” and it made me smile.
In late February 2012, Kenichi Kurosawa, who put up the now famous “Ganbaro! Ishinomaki” [“Let’s keep going, Ishinomaki!”] sign in the ruins of his own home, commissioned me to make a stand for a lamp to be placed near the sign. The stand was to be made from scrap wood found in the rubble. He also commissioned me to make three seats to be placed near the lamp as a tribute to those whose lives were cut short by the tsunami. The seats, of different heights, were installed at the site in May 2012. I feel that they represent my three children, and every day before work, I go to sit there, envisage their faces and remember the good times we shared together.
The third anniversary of the earthquake is approaching. I am currently making wooden play equipment which I will place in the ruins of my home for the children in my local area. It is a huge woodwork project with slopes, steps and a rainbow bridge. There will be also three arrow-shaped poles, soaring four meters into the sky. The playground is scheduled for completion on March 11, 2014.
I am so looking forward to the return of the joyful voices of children at play in the exact same spot where my family—myself, Ayako, my two daughters Hana and Kana and my son Kanta—used to live.
[Translated from September 12, 2012, and March 4, 2014, issues of Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan]
Only One Yes
by Clayton Surrat, USA
The Power of Friendship
by Peninah Achieng-Kindberg, UK
Fighting for My Daughter: Finding My True Mission
by Rachel Aspögård, Sweden
A Fierce Determination to Live
by Jharna Narang, survivor of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks
Creating a World Where All Belong
by Sinéad Lynch, Ireland