Longing for her mother / 4-yr-old girl pens heartbreaking letter to missing parent


Norikazu Tateishi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
Four-year-old Manami Kon gazes at the sea, apparently waiting for her missing parents and younger sister in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture.
“Dear Mommy, I hope you are alive. Are you well?”–Four-year-old Manami Kon sleeps after writing a letter to her mother, who was swept away by tsunami in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture.

MIYAKO, Iwate–“Dear Mommy, I hope you are alive. Are you well?”

This is the heartbreaking letter written last week by 4-year-old Manami Kon. The girl’s mother, father and 2-year-old sister have all been missing since their town was devastated by a tsunami March 11.

Manami is one of many children whose parents have died or remain unaccounted for since tsunami struck coastal towns in the Tohoku and Kanto regions 21 days ago. Children in the towns have been seen looking at the sea, apparently in the belief they will be reunited with their parents some day.

Some smile more than usual, as if trying to drive away loneliness.

Manami’s father grew wakame seaweed in the Chikei district of Miyako, a small fishing village near the easternmost cape of Honshu. Manami was at her nursery school when the violent quake struck on March 11.

Her mother picked her up soon afterward and they went to their home, located on high ground overlooking an inlet.

As their house stood next to a local primary school, designated as an earthquake evacuation center, it was thought to be safe.

After they returned home, however, the massive tsunami struck. According to a local disaster management headquarters, the wave reached a height of at least 30 meters, apparently pushed higher by the narrow inlet.

Manami’s parents and her 2-year-old sister were carried away by the receding waters. Only Manami is known to have survived.

According to relatives who rushed to the house after the tsunami, Manami was probably saved because the nursery school bag on her back became tangled in a fishing net.

Manami was taken in by other relatives in Chikei. For four days, the district was cut off from surrounding areas as roads and bridges were made impassable by the tsunami.

When her grandmother Shizue Neki finally saw Manami one week after the tsunami, she was worried by the change in her usually lively granddaughter’s appearance.

“She looked so sad and said nothing. I thought she’d forgotten how to speak,” said Shizue, who lives in an inland area in Miyako.

On the afternoon of March 22, Manami announced she would write a letter to her mother. She opened her notebook on a kotatsu, took up a color pencil and began writing in the hiragana characters she had just learned in school.

Over the course of nearly an hour, she wrote:

Dear Mommy,

I hope you are alive.

Are you well?

Soon afterward, she fell asleep.

Manami has begun to smile again, but she will not go near her house. Everything on the first floor was washed away. Looking down the inlet that has changed so much, a look of pain sometimes flashes across her face.

Shizue wants Manami to stay at her house due to the fear of aftershocks. But the girl will not agree, saying: “I’ll wait here [in Chikei] until Mom comes home.”

Cell phones are not yet working in this area. “Will Papa call me?” Manami asks, holding tight to her father’s silver cell phone, with the power turned on.

Apr. 1, 2011

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