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06th Oct 2022

Man still goes diving every week looking for his wife’s body after Japan’s 2011 tsunami

Steve Hopkins

Yasuo Takamatsu is the most devoted of husbands

More than 11 years after Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami, a 65-year-old man is believed to still be continuing the search for his wife.

On March 11, 2011, Yasuo Takamatsu lost his wife, Yuko Takamatsu, when the strongest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history, with a magnitude of 9.0 known as the Thoku earthquake and the Great East Japan earthquake, caused a powerful tsunami.

Waves of up to 40.5 meters swept through the port of Onagawa in Miyagi, killing 827 people – nearly 10 per cent of the town’s population – and injuring hundreds more, as well as destroying 70 per cent of its buildings. The area is where Yuko, then 47, went missing.

More than 450,000 people became homeless as a result of the tsunami and more than 15,500 people died. In addition to the thousands of destroyed homes, businesses, roads, and railways, the tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Yasuo told the Associated Press in March last year that he spent two years looking for his wife on land before getting a diving licence, then aged 56, and turning his attention to the water. Yasuo’s son and daughter survived the tragedy.

“I dive as if I’m going to meet her someplace,” he said.

Yasuo is believed to still be searching his wife, having previously vowed to continue “as long as [his] body moves.”

“I do want to find her, but I also feel that she may never be discovered as the ocean is way too vast – but I have to keep looking,” he has previously said.

Yasuo, had been with his mother-in-law at a hospital in the next town at the time of the tragedy, was not allowed to return the wrecked town, until the next day. When he went to Onagawa’s hospital, which sits on a hilltop, as the designated evacuation site, he learned of his wife’s fate.

“I felt my knees buckling. I felt nothing in my body,” he said.

Yasuo explained that in her last message to him, his wife had sent she wanted to go home. It is now his mission to ensure that happens.

Her last text message read: “Are you okay? I want to go home.”

While her mobile phone was found in the parking lot of the bank months after the disaster, Yuko ‘s body has never been found.

According to the BBC a message she had written but had been unable to send, read: “The tsunami is disastrous.”

Yasuo explained that he found the thought of surviving the tragedy and not attempting to look for his wife “depressing”.

Yuko was at the bank where she worked when the tsunami hit. She was reportedly with a group of workers clearing up the damage from the earthquake, which struck first, and was warned by the manager of the impending tsunami, so climbed up on the roof.

The workers were warned of a six-meter wave, but they briefly debated whether there was enough time to flee to the nearby, taller hospital building, but ultimately decided to stay put.

That was when Yuko texted her husband: “Are you safe? I want to go home.”

The tsunami was three times bigger than estimated. Witnesses later posted on social media about seeing the bankers trying to escape.

One Facebook post read: “We get a lump in a throat every time we think about the female bankers who, wearing skirts, had to climb the ladder with unimaginable fear, and male bankers who threw off their coats at the last minute regardless of the cold weather, their fear, despair and regret.”

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