Police search for the remains of students outside Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Japan, this month.

Reporting from Ishinomaki, Japan— For months now, the drill has been the same: Mamoru Oikawa grabs a shovel and chainsaw and gathers up the three precious photographs.

Then he ventures out alone, on foot, on a mission that has become a painful personal obsession. He is a husband and father desperately trying to reclaim what he has lost.

The 30-year-old firefighter combs the riverbanks, rubble-strewn rice fields and weed-choked gullies where he thinks he might find them. He uses the shovel to pry up chunks of concrete, the saw to slice through jagged shards of wood, looking for that chance macabre encounter: the jutting form of a hand, a face.

Oikawa is searching for the bodies of his wife and baby daughter, who disappeared March 11 when the earthquake-triggered tsunami washed across this rural landscape, pulling houses from their foundations and dragging residents to their deaths.

The disaster hit this farm and fishing community of 160,000 hard. Of 8,000 people still missing across northeastern Japan, 2,770 are from Ishinomaki; it also has the highest confirmed death toll, 3,100.

Oikawa knows he will never find his family alive. More likely, if he locates their bodies at all, they will be horribly decomposed, the remains perhaps ravaged by animals. But Oikawa doesn't care. He just wants them back.

Often, in moments of doubt, as he scours country back roads and rarely trodden trails, he takes out the photographs of his 29-year-old wife, Emi, and 15-month-old Atsuki and he talks to them.

"I'm sorry," he says softly. "I'm sorry."

In Japanese, Mamoru means "to protect," and he chastises himself for failing so miserably with the two people he loved most.

He's sorry that he couldn't protect them; sorry that he wasn't there when the waves took them; sorry that they had such shortened lives.

This region is full of survivors with missing friends and family members. Yet as the weeks and months pass, most slowly relinquish their slim hope of ever recovering the dead.

But Oikawa says he won't stop until he finds his wife and daughter.

"I'll still be looking next year," he said, "and the year after that."

Full story at latimes
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2 Responses
  1. anney Says:

    My heartfelt sympathy to this man. I know one day his search will be over.


  2. Speechless **power of love**


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