Widower learns to dive in bid to find remains of wife lost to 3.11 tsunami

Yasuo Takamatsu, right, listens to diving instructor Masayoshi Takahashi, left, after a dive in the waters off Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 11. (Mainichi)
Yasuo Takamatsu, right, listens to diving instructor Masayoshi Takahashi, left, after a dive in the waters off Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 11. (Mainichi)

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi -- On March 11, 2011, Yasuo Takamatsu lost his wife Yuko to the tsunami. Almost three years later, he remains determined to find her, getting his diving license and planning to scour the Tohoku seaboard for her remains.

"I will find my wife on my own power. I will bring her home," says Takamatsu, 57, from the nearby town of Onagawa. On this February morning, he is joined by 34-year-old diving instructor Masayoshi Takahashi on the snowy coast of the Sanriku region. Clad in drysuits -- diving suits insulated against the cold -- and each with a 15-kilogram air tank strapped to their back, they head into the water.

While Takamatsu has his national diving certification, he's still a beginner. Today's hour-and-a-half dive is in waters about six meters deep, and Takamatsu is learning to maintain a constant depth.

Yuko was 47 years old when the ocean ripped into Onagawa in March 2011. She was at work at 77 Bank's Onagawa branch when she felt the temblor. Fearing a tsunami, she and her 12 colleagues headed to the bank's roof. The rooftop was 13 meters above ground level, but the tsunami that hit Onagawa reached 20 meters high in some places. Four of the people on the bank roof have been confirmed dead, and eight others -- including Yuko -- remain "missing."

At 3:21 p.m., just before waves engulfed the town, Takamatsu got an email on his cell phone from Yuko, asking simply, "Are you all right?"

Beginning last year, the Miyagi Prefecture office of the Japan Coast Guard has conducted three coastal searches for Yuko at Takamatsu's request. Though certainly grateful, Takamatsu eventually decided that he wanted to search himself. In November last year, he took diving lessons from Takahashi -- owner of an Ishinomaki dive shop -- and got his scuba diving qualification.

To conduct underwater searches or clear debris, however, Takamatsu needed the higher-level national diving certification, for which there is a rigorous exam. And so, in December 2013, he spent at least an hour after work every day studying. He used a marker to highlight important passages as he studied, and the 350 pages of his textbook and workbook are crowded with bright pink lines. Takamatsu passed the diving exam on Feb. 7 this year.

His teacher Takahashi had said to him, "Why don't you wait until summer to learn those skills?" But Takamatsu replied, "I want to start looking for Yuko as soon as I can, tomorrow even," and pressed ahead with the exam.

Every time Takamatsu remembers the words of Yuko's last message, he thinks, "I bet you want to come home. It's so sad that you haven't yet, that you're still on the bottom of the cold ocean." He still has a lot of training to do before he can start his underwater search for her remains, but "I'll keep diving as many times as it takes. I'll get better, a little at a time," he says.

February 12, 2014(Mainichi Japan)