I Only See Them in My Dreams: Fukushima Man Grieves Lost Family to Typhoon

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A man holds a pendant containing a small amount of the cremated remains of his wife Ayako and two sons, Ryuto and Shu, on October 10, 2022, in Fukushima prefecture. It is decorated with a design based on the Geminid meteor shower he observed with Ayako, and the three birthstones, placed in the order of their chambers: Shu on the left, then Ayako, then Ryuto. (Mainichi/Mina Isogai)

FUKUSHIMA — A 39-year-old man from Fukushima Prefecture has a recurring dream. His wife is in the kitchen cooking, but when he walks up and says her name, all she says back is “I’m sorry.” He calls his two school-age sons, but gets no answer. There’s nothing like a real conversation. And he wants so badly to talk to his wife and children, because in his dreams it’s the only place he can still see them. And then he wakes up.

“I feel like they’re still alive,” he says, even though it’s been three years since his wife Ayako, then 36, and sons Ryuto, 10, and Shu, 7. , left the family home for an overnight trip. , never to return. The man himself wishes to remain anonymous, but gives their names, saying: “I want people to know that all three of them were alive.”

The family of four lived in southern Fukushima prefecture. They spent their days barbecuing at Lake Inawashiro, snowboarding, fishing, and running. They all liked to exercise and sweat together. The man met the compassionate Ayako in high school. Ryuto was firm and gentle. Shu was mischievous and loved catching insects and climbing trees. His sons were opposites, he said, but they got along well.

It all ended with Typhoon Hagibis when it raged across Japan in 2019. October 12 of that year was the first day of a three-day weekend. That morning, Ayako asked the man, “What should we do? She and the two boys planned to spend the night at a friend’s house in the prefectural city of Koriyama. The man replied, “It hasn’t rained yet, so you can go. He could not have known then that the typhoon would make landfall later in the day and claim the lives of more than 120 people.

Ayako left with Ryuto and Shu around noon in a light car. The rain intensified and as night fell, a special heavy rain warning was issued for the prefecture. Around 8 p.m., the man texted his wife, and she replied, “We’re in the house, so it’s okay.”

It wasn’t until the next morning that he realized something was wrong. He couldn’t get in touch with Ayako. He called the police and then headed for Koriyama himself, but landslides had blocked the road. He asked their friend in town about his family and was told they had gone home the night before. There were no clues as to why they had decided to return or what had happened.

Police and firefighters searched the Kuroishi River, a mountain stream near the friend’s house. They first recovered Shu’s body on the afternoon of October 13. Later, they discovered the car. On the morning of the 14th, the man found Ayako’s body in the sediment that had accumulated along the river. Ryuto was found downstream on October 18.

The Kuroishi is not a big river, but that changed as it grew with torrential rains brought by Typhoon Hagibis, and authorities believe it swept away the man’s family.

“Why didn’t I stop my family from going out when the typhoon hit Japan?” The man was overwhelmed with regret. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you, he thought. Every day since, there has been no one to welcome him home after work. Often he greets the morning with tears in front of his Buddhist altar.

“They no longer live except in the hearts of those who keep them in their thoughts. I will do whatever they want to do,” he decided. He got a license for the medium- and large-engine motorcycles he thought his sons would one day ride, and hit the road on his own. Two years after their death, the man was able to jog again in the same place where he had run with his sons several times a day. He made a pendant containing a small amount of the cremated remains of his wife and children so he could always feel close to them.

Last March, a special graduation ceremony was held for Ryuto at his sons’ elementary school. He received a diploma from the director and a handmade album from Ryuto’s sixth-grade classmates. What would have been Shu’s third year class also joined the ceremony. The man’s eyes grew hot with emotion.

When the fragrant olive trees of Japan bloom, the man’s mind returns to the terrible moments of searching three years ago. It is certain that it will always be so. Whenever he has time, he always goes to the Kuroishi River to hunt their stuff. Ayako’s clothes were found, but Shu’s running shoes were not.

On their birthdays and his wedding anniversary, he sends Ayako Line messages that will never be read: “I will always love you.”

(Japanese original by Mina Isogai, Fukushima Office)

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