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Disaster prevention in Japan adds young, bold voice

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) -- An 8-year-old girl in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, born a month before the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, aims to become a city-designated disaster prevention meister.
The girl is Tae Yonezawa, an elementary school third grade student. Her 53-year-old father Yuichi gives talks about his experience of the tsunami that claimed the lives of his parents and younger brother to communicate its horror. Father and daughter persevere in their activities to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy.

A Japanese child learns about disaster prevention

“Do all seawall gates in Iwate Prefecture shut automatically?” Tae asked a prefectural government official when she visited self-closing seawall gates on Aug. 25 as part of a disaster prevention meister training programme, held by the Rikuzentakata municipal government, to develop local disaster prevention leaders.
“Since even new seawalls will not be able to completely block an earthquake triggered tsunami, it is necessary to escape to higher places,” Tae said, as her father looked on.
Having learned from the disaster, the city began the training program last fiscal year. From May to December, meteorological observatory officials, university professors and other specialists give monthly lectures on such topics as evacuation information and behavioral psychology during disasters. Those who obtain nine or more of the 15 credits receive a certificate. Last fiscal year, 41 people did. This fiscal year, 26 people applied for the training programme, with Tae its youngest participant.
Born in February 2011, Tae, in her parents’ and grandparents’ arms, went to a shrine in the city on March 11, 2011, as it is a custom to go to a shrine to pray for a newborn’s health and well-being. Several hours after the visit, the city was hit by the strong earthquake and tsunami. Tae and her mother escaped to a hill. Yuichi, who had returned to a packaging wholesale firm he ran, fled to the roof of the company’s three story building and barely escaped death on top of a chimney. However, Yuichi’s father, 73, mother, 70, and brother, 38, died at a citizen hall designated as an evacuation shelter.
Yuichi conserves his company’s former building that was engulfed by the tsunami as an earthquake ruin and engages in activities to talk about his experience.
“I want to keep alive the memory of the tsunami’s horror in a visible manner. I believe that talking about my experience can also be a memorial to the victims,” he said. Yuichi has so far recounted his experience to over 3,000 people. He took Tae to the roof of his former company building and told her, “The whole area around the building was in the sea.”

(Latest Update October 9, 2019)

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