Kesennuma: Children in a tsunami-devastated town in northeast Japan lit 10,000 candles and banged taiko drums on Friday on the eve of "obon”, a Buddhist ceremony to honour the dead, as residents struggle to rebuild lives five months after the disaster.
Kesennuma, a scenic fishing town some 400 km (248 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was engulfed by fire after it was struck by a magnitude 9.0 quake and a huge tsunami on March 11. The disaster left more than 20,400 dead or missing in Japan, and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years at Fukushima.
In Kesennuma, about 1,000 out of 73,500 residents died and more than 400 are missing, presumed dead. While police still search, some survivors who lost their loved ones or have waited for their return are now trying to move on.
"Sadness is sadness. But it is an emotion that people should not hang on to forever," said Kanji Hatakeyama, a city official who also lost his home to the tsunami, as he watched kids play traditional songs on Japanese drums at a summer festival.
Over the last month, the pages of a local newspaper were filled with death notices, and many funerals for the missing were held as residents sought emotional closure before obon in mid-August, when families welcome back the spirits of the dead.
Obon is celebrated every year, but residents say this year's event is different as Kesennuma copes with losses, and works to rebuild.
The town has worked to clear the heaps of mud and rubble that covered much of its coastal areas, once famous for bonito and tuna fishing. Much has been removed, though piles of burned cars and debris still remain, now home to crows and flies.
Takehiko Sugawara, a 42-year-old temporary city official who lost his job at a fishery destroyed by the tsunami and was helping to decontaminate ground among the debris, said he was too busy to get emotional.
"It is obon time, but we don't have things ready. We have so much to do and I don't have a moment to feel sad," said Sugawara, adding he feels he has not been able to honour properly his parents, who were washed away by the tsunami.
First Published: Friday, August 12, 2011, 19:43