13 Avril 2017
April 11, 2017
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Kenjo Uchimi, Junki Kikuchi and Sakura Shimosawa were born in different parts of northeastern Japan but have one thing in common.
They arrived in this world on March 11, 2011, the day of the earthquake and tsunami disaster that left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing in the Tohoku region.
Like other children born that day, they are now 6 years old and started attending elementary school from this spring.
The lives of these three children were dramatically affected by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and towering tsunami that devastated coastal areas and triggered a nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture.
As Rieko Uchimi was delivering her son in Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture, the hospital was plunged into a blackout and water supplies were cut off.
Kenjo was delivered through Caesarean section, but a lack of oxygen left him with a physical impairment due to brain paralysis.
In the case of Junki Kikuchi, a lack of nurses at a hospital in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, meant that Junki, instead of being put in a room for the newborn, spent every hour in bed with his mother Sanae, 40.
The unfolding disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused by the triple meltdown would also play havoc with his life.
Because the family stayed on in Koriyama, rather than evacuating like other residents in the neighborhood, Junki could never play outside as the risk of radiation exposure was too great.
Sakura Shimosawa was born in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, but infant incubators at the hospital became unusable because of a blackout. Her mother Etsuko, fearing a tsunami, fled to the third floor of the hospital, the highest level, for protection, clutching her newborn daughter in a blanket during the freezing night.
Kenjo Uchimi is unable to move his hands or legs freely. He also has difficulty speaking.
On April 10, the day before the entrance ceremony of Rifu Elementary School, Kenjo's mother and father, Takashi, 43, took him to the school so he could see his classroom.
Finding a desk on which his name tag was pasted, Kenjo sat on the chair. Then, a teacher and the father said in unison, “Cool.” Kenjo sported a big grin.
His mother Rieko, 42, was driven by her husband to an obstetrics and gynecology hospital in Rifu as clocks ticked over from March 10, 2011, to March 11. It was a fraught delivery.
When Kenjo was 2 years old, he began attending a center that helps children's growth. He uttered sounds and tried to climb onto a balance beam while crawling.
“Kenjo is motivated to grow. He should go to a nursery school,” a staff member told Takashi.
At the nursery school, staff were always on hand to help Kenjo.
One day, an infant who had yet to reach the age of one was climbing stairs while crawling. A nurse asked Kenjo, “Will you try that?” Slowly, he climbed the stairs one by one. After negotiating all 22 steps, he flashed a big smile and gave out a cry of delight at his achievement.
His friends always huddled around him, making sure he had a chair for morning meetings and turning on the faucet when Kenjo needed to wash his hands. He eventually became able to say, “A-ri-ga-to-u” (Thank you).
Now, he can move around with a walker. He can also eat by himself with a spoon and fork.
“Friendship and affection from other people encourage him. We (our family) were able to learn that,” Takashi said, adding, “Though he may suffer setbacks in the elementary school, he will surely be able to overcome them.”
THE KARATE KID
In Koriyama, Junki Kikuchi entered Tomita-Higashi Elementary School on April 6.
Influenced by his elder brother, Hiyuki, 9, Junki began to learn “karate” when he was 4 years old. He attends a dojo training hall two or three times a week.
Junki was born at a hospital in Koriyama two hours before the Great East Japan Earthquake. Like other newborns, he should have spent his first days of life in a special room for infants. But there was a shortage of nurses, and he slept with his mother.
Although the nuclear accident was unfolding, Junki’s family decided to remain in Koriyama rather than evacuate.
Unable to play outdoors, Junki had a stressful time, which caused his mother great pain.
Now, six years have passed.
“Though he may be smaller than other children in his class, he has become an active boy. Now, he climbs one of the pillars in our home,” said Sanae.
“The anxieties we felt at the time of the nuclear accident are becoming a thing of the past. We are happy with that,” Junki’s father, Ryuichi, 38, added.
OLDEST OF 3
In Miyako, Sakura Shimosawa politely wrote her name on a notebook, saying, “I am now able to write my name.”
She also wrote, “I like Japanese and math. I want to learn (hiragana and other) characters as early as possible.”
Sakura smiled as she showed off a pale purple “randoseru” satchel her mother Etsuko, 38, bought for her.
Sakura was born 27 minutes before the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. Infant incubators were rendered useless due to a power blackout. Etsuko fled to the top floor of the hospital, praying they would survive the tsunami.
Sakura now has a 4-year-old sister and a 1-year-old brother. As an elder sister, she puts them to sleep. She also helps her mother in cooking. She cuts “tofu” bean curd for miso soup and peels potatoes.
Sakura was born two weeks prematurely.
“It looks as if she was determined to be born on March 11 from the outset,” Etsuko said.
"(As I gave birth to her on the day when many people died) I feel that Sakura is encouraged to become a person who offers a helping hand to people in trouble.”
As Sakura was born at a cold time of year, her parents named her Sakura (cherry blossoms, which are a symbol of spring), hoping that she would spread warmth to those around her as she grew.
When her name was called by her teacher during the entrance ceremony of Sentoku Elementary School on April 10, Sakura replied with a strong “Yes,” which echoed in the gymnasium where the ceremony was being held.
(This article was written by Norihiko Kuwabara, Hiroki Koizumi and Hiroaki Abe.)