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Police officer succeeds will of father lost in Hiroshima landslides by helping others

Takashi Masaoka speaks about the damage to the areas where he was involved in rescue operations, in Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Aug. 15, 2018. (Mainichi)

MIHARA, Hiroshima -- A senior police officer at a police station here pledged to carry on his father's will to help others, after losing his firefighter father in line of duty during the 2014 Hiroshima landslides, on the fourth anniversary of the disaster on Aug. 20.

It was only natural for 34-year-old Takashi Masaoka, who had grown up watching his father help others as a firefighter, to take on a job that also involved helping people, becoming a police officer at 28 years old. His first experience carrying out rescue operations came as a member of the Mihara Police Station during the deadly torrential rains that hit western Japan in July. Images of his father, who must have gone through the same situation four years ago, crossed his mind many times. He reaffirmed his determination to carry out his father's will to "approach work with pride and a sense of responsibility."

Masaoka's father Noriyoshi, who worked at the Hiroshima City Fire Services Bureau, would always stay beside the phone whenever a typhoon came near, so he could quickly respond to calls for help. He also joined rescue missions after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.

When the landslides hit Hiroshima in 2014, Masaoka had already started working as a police officer, speaking with his father about their jobs occasionally.

Noriyoshi was 53 when he was caught in a deadly landslide on Aug. 20, 2014, while evacuating residents of Hiroshima's Asakita Ward, a 3-year-old boy in his arms. When Masaoka rushed to the hospital after hearing about the incident, he saw his father's body -- his back and knees were still bent as if holding onto the child. Even in his last moments, his father had characteristically devoted himself to helping others, Masaoka thought.

On July 6 this year, the day of the torrential rains, Masaoka was not on duty at the police station, and spent a restless night hoping that the rains would not develop into a disaster like four years before. When he visited the Kihara district of Mihara the next day, the landscape was completely unrecognizable. Roads were gushing with mud, rivers were filled with dirt and the ground floors of buildings were smashed as if they had been beaten by hammers. Masaoka could not help but wonder, "Had my father witnessed similar scenes?"

"Please answer me if you're alive," Masaoka called out as he walked around the area covered in mud, still in shock. When his father had reached the site damaged by landslides in 2014, it had been around 4:30 a.m. "It must have been difficult to walk around the disaster area before dawn," Masaoka thought, "It is so hard to move around in the daylight." It was when he was thinking of his father that he spotted a body in a partially destroyed house, and wished that he could have found the person alive.

For about a month following that day, Masaoka joined in the search for missing people and other efforts. "It felt more rewarding than tiring," he recalled. "I was overflowing with the will to help others." Even to his mother, who must have been thinking of the fate that her husband met and called her son, Masaoka answered firmly that he was doing well.

Every year on the anniversary of his father's death, Masaoka visits his father's grave to fill him in on what has been happening in his life. This year, he plans to tell his father about what he saw and experienced in the disaster-hit areas.

(Japanese original by Yuta Kumamoto, Hiroshima Bureau)

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