A man whose wife and 3-year-old daughter were killed after an elderly man drove through crosswalks in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district speaks at a news conference on April 24. (The Asahi Shimbun)

After attending a memorial service, a man tearfully described the joy that his wife and daughter had brought to his life and then delivered a stern plea to elderly people around Japan.

“If you feel any anxiety about driving, please think about ‘not driving’ as an option,” he said at a news conference in Tokyo on April 24.

The memorial service in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward was held for the 32-year-old man’s wife and young daughter who were struck and killed by a vehicle driven by an 87-year-old man in the capital’s busy Ikebukuro district.

“I am in despair that I suddenly lost my beloved wife and daughter,” the man, who requested anonymity, said at the news conference.

Wearing mourning clothes and a black tie, he explained that April 19 had started off just like any other day for the family.

His 31-year-old wife, Mana Matsunaga, and their 3-year-old daughter, Riko, saw him off to work in the morning from their home.

Around noon, the three talked via a videophone system, part of the family’s daily routine.

“I’ll be home on time today,” he told them. “Please wait for me.”

They replied, “Be careful coming home.”

That would be their last conversation together.

Around 12:25 p.m. near the Higashi-Ikebukuro subway station on Tokyo Metro Co.’s Yurakucho Line, Mana and Riko were on a bicycle going through a pedestrian crossing when the car slammed into them.

The car continued moving, smashed into and overturned a garbage truck, hit other pedestrians at another crosswalk, and crashed into another truck, according to police.

At least 10 people were injured. Mana and Riko were the only fatalities.

“I am mortified. This will never go away, no matter how long the time passes,” the man said at the start of the news conference.

He then bit his lips in front of a portrait of Mana and Riko taken earlier this year. Riko was wearing a vibrant kimono for the “shichigosan” celebration of the girl’s third year.

The man said he met Mana, who was from Okinawa Prefecture, through a relative’s introduction.

“I told her that I wanted to marry her several times,” he said. “Mana had some characteristics that I lacked. I had never met a person as fantastic as her, and I was so impressed. She made me grow.”

Riko was initially too shy to play with other children in the park. But she recently made several friends.

After the turn of the year, she was able to count to 10, and the parents felt that their girl was growing up fast.

“For me and Mana, Riko was a treasure. Nothing can replace her,” the father said. “Our daughter will quickly grow from now on, become an adult, and leave me and my wife. Then I will live together with my wife until I reach the end of my life.

“That’s what I believed would happen.”

After the fatal accident, the man asked news media not to name his wife and daughter. But he changed his mind and gave two pictures of them to the media.

The first picture, released on April 22, was taken on April 4. It shows the mother and daughter smiling and holding hands while enjoying cherry blossom viewing.

In the second picture released on the following day, Riko is sitting on Mana’s lap at her favorite park on April 6.

“They were shy people. Initially, I felt strongly that it would be painful for them to see their faces on display nationwide,” the man said.

But he said he developed a sense of mission to bring meaning to their deaths.

“There existed a young woman who embraced life and a child who could only live for three years. I want people to grasp the reality of that fact,” the man explained. “I want people to remember them and think about them when they are about to take the wheel even if they have doubts (about their ability.)

“I want people to think about them when they are about to do something reckless, like drunken driving, tailgating and using a cellphone while driving. Then it may dissuade people from such driving behavior.”

Throughout the 40-minute news conference, the man kept looking down. But he spoke with deliberate emphasis when making a plea to society.

“Taking this accident into account, I hope that people will start to have various discussions to create a future where nobody falls victim to a road accident as much as possible.”

The man said he has yet to visit the accident site, which is not far from his home. “I want to go there when my mind calms a little more.”

He also mentioned the outpouring of condolences from the public at a makeshift memorial for his wife and daughter.

“Many people who didn’t even know us have offered floral tributes,” he said. “I really appreciate it.”

According to Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department, the vehicle ran out of control for about 150 meters and through red lights.

Police identified the octogenarian driver as Kozo Iizuka, a former head of the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology, an organization under the now-defunct Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

Police said the evidence suggests that Iizuka, who has been hospitalized for chest injuries, lost control of the car.

He has submitted to voluntary questioning on possible charges of dangerous driving resulting in death and injuries.

A neighbor of Iizuka in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward said he saw Iizuka having trouble parking his car. And about a year ago, according to the neighbor, Iizuka said he was thinking about quitting driving.

The number of fatal accidents caused by elderly drivers has risen as Japan’s population rapidly ages.

The government now implements mandatory cognitive tests for drivers 75 or older.

There is no mandatory retirement age for drivers, but police and safety advocates have encouraged elderly people to voluntarily give up their driver's licenses to prevent accidents.

(This article was written by Chihiro Ara, Chihaya Inagaki and Yuko Kawasaki.)