“Everyone who was affected by the disaster, I know how painful it is, but please don’t give up. Employee S.” The message posted on the bulletin board at the Natori City Hall of quake-hit Miyagi Prefecture cheers up the people. It is Mr. Takuya Saijo (30), a municipal employee who wrote the message. He himself lost his seven-month-old only son in the tsunami and his wife, Yuriko (27) is still missing. “I would like to be a husband and father whom my wife and son could be proud of.” He stays positive as he continues to work.
At 2:46 pm on March 11, Mr. Saijo who was at his desk at the City Hall called his wife on her cell phone once he felt earthquake. Her phone rang and he thought his call got through for a moment, but it was disconnected within a second. Although he called her again and again during the violent quake, his mobile’s screen only showed “No signal is available.” He felt so anxious, but he reminded himself that his wife was protecting their only son.
The employees of the Pension Division which Mr. Saijo works for were assigned to establish a system to take in those affected. Immediately, he was given the task of securing food supply for evacuation centers. He took his wedding band off and carefully put it into his pocket so as not to damage it while at work.
It was not until two o’clock on the morning of March 12 that he got home in Natori City after work. His home is about three kilometers away from the coast, but the whole area was covered in water and mud. He opened the door and called his wife’s name, but the two were not there. “They must be shivering in the cold somewhere.” He drove around carrying blankets, foods, diapers, etc., to look for his wife and son at every shelter as well as his wife’s silver car in every parking lot all through the night.
Early in the morning, Mr. Saijo was headed to his wife’s parents’ house, which was about 3.5 kilometers away from his home. He used to visit them with his son. Streets were blocked by debris and mud along the way to the house. After he got out of his car and walked through debris strewn streets, he found that the parents’ two storied house was gone, which was about one kilometer away from the coast.
On March 13, he finally got together with his wife’s mother at an evacuation center. She told him that his wife had been washed away in the tsunami with her son in her arms.
On March 15, Mr. Saijo’s father and younger sister visited him in the evacuation center where he worked to tell him that there was a body which looked like the son Naoto’s in the mortuary. After work, Mr. Saijo went to the mortuary near the City Hall. Naoto’s tiny pink coffin was laid together with many other large ones. Mr. Saijo opened the tiny coffin’s cover and found Naoto inside. He looked as if he was asleep, but his purple colored underwear was stained with mud. Mr. Saijo cuddled up to Naoto and kept stroking him on the cheek and head.
On March 16, the City Hall was again full of people who were trying to find out about the safety of their families and friends. Mr. Saijo’s wife was still missing. He looked at the list of evacuation centers and victims’ names many times a day.
He saw a number of other people, like him, who were looking for their loved ones but disappointed to have found no names on the list. He wanted to say to them, “Here is someone who understands your pain.” He asked himself what he could do for them and came up with this idea to write a message for those affected.
On March 17, he arrived in the office early and took out his family photo which he kept in the desk drawer.
It was three years ago that he had met his wife, Yuriko. She was his junior colleague and an upbeat woman who always talked with a smile on her face. He fell in love at first sight and proposed to her on June 14 of the year, which was her birthday. The two used to walk on the beach with the Labrador retriever, Yuriko’s parents’ dog. And their son Naoto was born last July and used to smile when he had a camera pointed at him. Mr. Saijo took thousands of photos of Naoto.
He started writing with fond memories of his wife and son. He tried to write word by word in a careful manner, but could not write neatly. And he finished writing “Don’t give up.”
“Are you the person who wrote the message? Actually, we are on the same boat.” The people who had lost their family members talked to Mr. Saijo a few days after he posted the message. They talked to each other about whether they lived safely. Mr. Saijo made a promise to have a talk with them when they were in trouble. He says, “I am not the only one who is suffering. I hope to support each individual who suffers.”
“I would like to rebuild and revive this town where my wife and son were born and raised so that everyone here can live with a smile again.” His family photo is in his desk drawer as usual.
Mr. Saijo's message posted on the safety confirmation bulletin board at the Natori City Hall.
The full text of Mr. Saijo’s message:
I have lost my beloved wife and newborn only son in the ferocious tsunami.
I would like to live life to the fullest in order to be a husband and father whom they can be proud of.
Everyone who was affected by the disaster, I know how painful it is, but please don’t give up!
Natori City Employee S.
The Asahi Shimbun, April 15, 2011
Translated by Mikiko Yamashita