The city of Fukushima on the eastern coast of Japan is still be ringed by an exclusion zone more than five years since the earthquake and tsunami that triggered a devastating nuclear disaster in March, 2011.
But that hasn’t stopped countless parents crossing barriers to search tirelessly for their missing children, as a new documentary on the ABC has investigated.
Naomi Hiratsuka is one of these mothers. She spent months searching through the rubble and debris left behind after the devastating earthquake and tsunami for her 12-year-old daughter Koharu.
Finally, after five months and after gaining her excavators license so that she could keep searching even after the official, government-sanctioned search was called off, Hiratsuka found her daughter’s body in the “wasteland” that surrounded the Okawa Primary School, where her daughter was a student.
She was one of the 73 children and 10 teachers who perished in the tsunami after leaving their school and running towards higher ground, located perilously near the Kitami River. When the river became swollen with water the result was devastation and an incredible loss of life.
“I understand that they’re dead, but I can’t leave the dead body underneath the rubble, in the mud, in the river, or in the water,” Hiratsuka told the ABC. “Finding her made a big difference to my husband and me. We could have a funeral and cremate her. She had come home to us.”
Hiratsuka considers herself one of the lucky ones. She has reached closure after finding her daughter.
Sadly, many parents are still searching. Norio Kimura’s seven-year-old daughter Yuna is one of the only missing people from the town whose body has still not been found. Along with Yuna, Kimura also lost his father and his wife in the Fukushima disaster.
Through his countless hours of searching – first alone, and now with an army of volunteers – he has unearthed some of his family’s belongings, including clothing and shoes, and ultimately the body of his father and his wife. But he has not found Yuna’s remains.
“Yuna is not really here, but [the clothing is] proof of her existence and that she was here,” Kimura told the ABC. “And to feel that is the biggest joy for me now and it’s a happy moment.”