A shrine at the elementary school in Okawa.
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Every community in coastal Japan has its own stories – stories of loss, of survival, of hope. On a recent visit to Japan, Leslie Gianelli, AmeriCares Communications Director, spent time in Okawa, a community touched by the tragic loss of schoolchildren and their teachers the day the tsunami struck. Below are her reflections about her visit to the school grounds.
The shell of the Okawa elementary school still stands, a monument to the 74 children lost when the tsunami swept through this verdant valley.
We visited the site in the late afternoon, and the threatening grey sky and hurricane force winds seemed fitting. I had just taken a moment to observe a shrine to the children, where flowers, candles, and other symbols of loss and grief had been placed.
As I walked away, an elderly man came running after me, speaking urgently in Japanese. I stopped in my tracks, worried that I had committed a cultural faux pas by photographing the shrine. My fears were quickly allayed as my colleague Kyoko translated the gentleman’s kind words. He wanted to thank me for coming from America to visit the site, and to extend thanks to all Americans for their concern and help since the tragedy.
This man, wearing only a thin blazer offering little protection from the fierce wind, was visiting the site from a nearby village. He also offered, “They should have gone up the hill” – referring to the fact that the children may have survived by climbing up into the steep hills surrounding the school instead of retreating to a bridge in the tsunami’s path. I nodded silently. If only they had gone up the hill