OFUNATO, Iwate Prefecture–A stone monument in honor of a university student who was last seen helping an elderly woman flee the 2011 tsunami has become a memorial for all disaster victims in the Okirai district here.
The monument was relocated to higher ground at a hilltop site overlooking Okirai Bay in Ofunato.
The area is where Kanae Seo, a second-year student of the School of Marine Bioscience at Kitasato University’s Sanriku Campus, assisted a woman in a wheelchair after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011.
The elderly woman survived. But Kanae, then 20, was swept away by the ensuing tsunami.
Her body has not been found.
Kanae lived alone near the campus. She loved nature and had become so fond of the people in the community that she declared she would not return to her home in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward after graduation.
After a long search for their daughter, Kanae’s father, Shinji, 61, and mother, Hiromi, 57, erected the stone monument on a coastal plot provided by a local resident in March last year. They thought the location was perfect for their ocean-loving daughter because it faced the sea.
Kanae always valued her relations with friends, so Shinji inscribed the kanji for “yushin” (friendly heart) on the stone.
However, construction of a coastal levee forced the parents to consider moving the monument.
Incidentally, a local community development committee planned to build a lookout with a view of town and the sea that could serve as a memorial for the more than 90 residents who were killed or disappeared in the tsunami.
The committee offered to move Kanae’s monument to the site in mid-July, and many people have since visited.
The hill offers a view of Okirai Bay, where Kanae fished at night, and the site of the apartment where she lived.
“I cannot believe her monument has been moved to such a wonderful place,” Hiromi said. “I am so grateful that the locals have accepted Kanae as an Okirai woman.”