Photo/IllutrationYuichi Yonezawa speaks with his daughter Tae on March 11 in the building that once housed the Yonezawa Shokai wrapping materials business. (Kazuhiro Nagashima)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate Prefecture--While Yuichi Yonezawa could have received a government subsidy to demolish a building gutted by the tsunami spawned by the Great East Japan Earthquake six years ago, he decided to preserve it as is.

Today, it stands as a lonely monument to the destructive force of the disaster and the precious lives it took, including those of his parents and younger brother.

The three-story building holds special meaning for Yonezawa, 52, because his father, Tokisuke, 74, bought it 15 years ago after he decided to take over the Yonezawa Shokai family business that sells packaging and wrapping materials.

Perhaps more importantly, it was where Yonezawa spoke for the last time with Tokisuke, his mother, Shizue, 70, and brother Shinobu, 38.

March 11, 2011, dawned as a very happy day for the Yonezawa family.

Yuichi's daughter, Tae, had been born a month earlier. The girl's parents and grandparents went to a nearby shrine to celebrate her birth in the traditional Shinto manner. The family was wrapped in smiles and happiness as Tokisuke and Shizue held their first grandchild. They told Yuichi they would give him handmade baby clothes as a present for Tae.

After visiting the shrine, Yuichi's wife, 44, returned to her family home to show them Tae.

Later that day, at 2:46 p.m., a magnitude-9.0 earthquake shook northeastern Japan.

Yuichi told his parents and younger brother, who were at the family business building, to evacuate while he went to check on a nearby warehouse. When he returned to the building, it was engulfed by a huge black wave. He climbed to safety atop the building roof.

Yuichi later went to the public hall where his parents and brother should have evacuated to. He found it inundated by water. The public hall and many other buildings in the neighborhood have been demolished.

Yuichi's home was also swept away, meaning he had little left to remind him of his parents and brother.

But whenever Yuichi looked up at the building, he could not help but remember the earnest manner in which Tokisuke worked, the delicious squid dishes prepared by Shizue and Shinobu's dream of becoming a certified tax accountant.

"If I demolished the building, I would lose the last traces of those memories," Yuichi thought at the time.

Amid the disaster, Yuichi also had some good luck. Building inspectors agreed there was no danger of the building toppling over. It was also not located in the area where the ground would be elevated to establish a base for new construction.

Having decided to preserve the building as a relic of the disaster, Yuichi has spoken to visitors about his experiences, including the fact that a sign just below where he climbed to says that is where the waters of the tsunami reached.

More than 2,000 people have heard about Yuichi's ordeal.

Now 6, Tae will begin elementary school in the spring. The young girl says when looking at photos of her grandparents, "They still live within my heart."

Yonezawa Shokai is now located in temporary quarters where Yuichi carries on the family business. He plans to rebuild his outlet as early as next year on elevated land in the city.

On March 11, the Yonezawas again climbed to the roof of the building. After placing her hands in prayer, Tae suddenly began crying. Yuichi held her tight.

"Even if this neighborhood should change its appearance, the building my father left me will be passed on as a reminder of the damage caused by the tsunami even to Tae's generation," Yuichi said.

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