7 Mars 2016
March 7, 2016
By YUKI CHAI/ Staff Writer
Yuna Kimura is the only resident of the Fukushima Prefecture town of Okuma who is still officially listed as missing from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Norio Kimura, 50, has accepted that Yuna, his second daughter who was 7 years old when she disappeared five years ago, did not survive the disaster. But he refuses to submit the document officially certifying her death until he feels he has done everything possible to find her body.
Over the past four-and-a-half years, Norio’s efforts have included donning bulky protective gear and scouring the coast and waters off Okuma, a town emptied of residents after the accident started at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. And to continue his search, he has rejected offers from the government to buy his land.
On Dec. 13, 2015, Norio received an encouraging sign.
On the shoreline of Okuma, the father discovered a small, blue jacket with handwritten characters on a label sewn on the chest area. The words read: “Yuna Kimura, the second class in the first grade of Kumamachi Elementary.”
“I feel that I am moving a step closer to Yuna,” Norio said after seeing the jacket.
The Kimura home was located about 4 kilometers south of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and 100 meters from the coast.
The tsunami five years ago swept away Yuna, Norio’s wife, Miyuki, then 37, and his father, Wataro, then 77. The home, including the foundation, was destroyed.
Norio was working in a neighboring town when the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011. That evening, he made it back to where his home once stood and was greeted by the pet Doberman.
He spent the entire night searching for his three loved ones.
The following morning, Norio was forced to leave Okuma along with his 15-year-old daughter and 77-year-old mother after an evacuation order was issued because of the nuclear disaster.
In April, Wataro’s body was found near the Kimura home. Miyuki’s body was found off the coast of Iwaki in the prefecture.
But there was no sign of Yuna.
Norio resumed the search for his daughter at the end of 2011, using the opportunity for local residents to return for short periods to their homes. He had to make a round trip of about 1,000 kilometers from Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, where he had settled with his mother and daughter.
He bought a commercial van in June 2012 and has since put in more than 150,000 km into the vehicle.
About three years ago, volunteers joined Norio’s search for Yuna. Their participation helped to lift some of the psychological burden Norio felt when he conducted the search alone.
Norio now only returns to Okuma a few times a month to continue his search. So far, he has discovered about 50 items in the area near where the family home once stood.
In addition to Yuna’s jacket, Norio has found the formal dress she wore for the entrance ceremony to elementary school, a photo taken before Norio and Miyuki were married and a shoe that Yuna was wearing on the day of the disaster.
In January 2014, Norio was informed that the land where his home once stood had been included in the planned site of an interim storage facility for soil contaminated with radioactive materials gathered from various parts of Fukushima Prefecture.
Five months later, an explanatory meeting was held for local residents about the planned construction of the facility.
“No matter what happens, I will never sell the land,” Norio said at the meeting. “I cannot fathom not being able to enter that area.”
Three years ago, Norio placed a statue of the Jizo guardian deity on a hill behind the site of where the home once stood. Carved into the statue are the names of the three loved ones he lost and a message: “I will never forget all three of you, and I will continue to think about you.”
In autumn 2015, Norio planted rapeseed blossom seeds on about 3,000 square meters of rice paddies nearby. In February, Norio fertilized the field in hopes the yellow flowers would grow better.
“When the flowers bloom, it should be a pretty sky from up above,” he said.