Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Portrait of hope after the tidal wave of despair: How distraught woman seen sobbing in Japan's ruins was reunited with her grandmother... and two of h


Devastation: This picture of Akane Ito sitting crying in the ruins of the devastated city of Natori became one of the most iconic images from the Japanese tsunami

Among all the haunting photographs taken in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami, one image became iconic - capturing the incredible scale of destruction and the resulting human misery in one unforgettable frame.

Published prominently in the Daily Mail and countless more newspapers around the world, it showed a young Japanese woman hunched in despair beside a ripped-up road, her tiny figure dwarfed by vast mounds of debris.

Rather strangely, she had removed her red rubber boots and placed them neatly beside her, but the fact that she sat barefooted amid the wreckage somehow made the picture more poignant.

Reunion: Against all the odds, Akane found two of her 13 dogs, labrador Mei and poodle Momo after the disaster

The photographer who took the picture never spoke to the woman, nor even asked her name. So who was this tormented woman, with her fashionable clothes and hairstyle, and what was the story behind her anguish?

The image was so powerful that I determined to discover the answer while in Japan reporting on the earthquake and tsunami for this paper. But with tens of thousands living in homeless people’s shelters along the country’s north-east coastline, tracking her down seemed an impossible task.

However, when I had all but given up and was back in Britain, I finally found her.

Temporary home: The hostess is now housed in a shelter where there is a special section for homeless people with pets

I had pinned the picture to a town-hall door in Natori in northern Japan, alongside dozens of other appeals to the missing - and by sheer chance she had seen it and responded to my request to get in touch.

Her name is Akane Ito, she is a 28-year-old nightclub hostess, and her story is by turns tragic and uplifting – a testimony to the extraordinary spirit with which the Japanese are facing up to their trials.

Until the tsunami struck, Akane lived with her construction-worker boyfriend and his mother, in a two-storey wooden house in Yuriage, a fishing port nearly 200 miles north of Tokyo which was populated by some 7,000 people.

Hope: Akane has not given up looking for her 11 other dogs

Akane has no children, but kept no fewer than 13 dogs - including six chihuahuas - which she loved dearly and regarded as her family.

‘On March 11, I was upstairs watching TV with my dogs, when suddenly I felt this mighty earthquake,’ she recalls. ‘There seemed to be no major damage, but we were just left without water, electricity and gas.

‘It meant that we had no radio or TV, so we hadn’t a clue that a huge tsunami was about to come racing in. We weren’t worried at all because a few years ago, when we had another big quake, the tidal wave was only about 10cm high.

‘The day after the tsunami, I tried to go back for them, but the town was still flooded and I couldn’t get through. I had no idea it had been completely destroyed until two days afterwards, when my boyfriend was able to drive us there.

‘When that photograph was taken, it was about 11am on March 13. I was sitting in front of what had been the entrance to my house, in total shock at the realisation that we had lost everything and our beloved dogs were gone.

The first dog to be found alive was May, a six-year-old female Labrador. Bedraggled and forlorn, she was spotted by a family as they wandered through the ruins of Youriage, a mile from Akane’s home, in search of missing relatives.

source: dailymail

No comments:

Post a Comment