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Kumamoto quake survivor vows to live on after late wife's courageous rescue call

Takehisa Mochida and his wife Tetsuko are pictured on a mountain in Oita Prefecture in 1989. (Photo courtesy of Takehisa Mochida)
Takehisa Mochida is seen on April 4, 2017 in front of greenhouses he built to store farming equipment where his home used to stand before it collapsed in the April 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake, in Mifune, Kumamoto Prefecture. (Mainichi)

MIFUNE, Kumamoto -- One year after the deadly earthquakes that struck Kumamoto Prefecture, 76-year-old farmer Takehisa Mochida once again appreciates his life, which was saved by his wife who called for help for her husband before she perished in the quake disaster.

Mochida, alongside his wife Tetsuko, then 70, was trapped under their house after it collapsed in a powerful temblor that hit shortly past midnight of April 15, 2016. Mochida was rescued almost unscathed several hours later, but his wife, who was trapped under a beam, was found the next morning in a state of cardiorespiratory arrest.

It was sometime after his wife's death that Mochida learned she had made an emergency call using a mobile phone, saying, "Please rescue my husband as quickly as possible" -- while she remained trapped in darkness.

Mochida is determined to make the best of his life for the sake of his children and grandchildren, "Because," he says, "that way I can repay my wife."

When this reporter visited his home, Mochida served me pickled scallion, or "rakkyo" in Japanese, saying, "This was pickled by my wife. It survived the quake because it was kept in the shed. Please have some."

As I tried a piece, a gentle, sweet-sour taste filled my mouth. "It tastes good. It would go well with curry," I said. Mochida replied, "My wife cooked superb curry and rice."

From early morning on April 15 last year, Mochida and his wife were busy clearing away boxes of rice seedlings and other items that were scattered around from a violent temblor the previous night -- which later turned out to have been a "foreshock." Not knowing a "main shock" would be coming, the couple went to bed in separate rooms on the first floor of their two-storied wooden home that was over 80 years old.

Shortly past midnight, the couple woke up to wild shaking, only to find the ceiling fall on top of them. "Are you all right?" Mochida yelled to his wife, to which she replied, "Yes."

The couple, however, was never to see each other again.

Several days after Mochida hastily held a wake and funeral service for Tetsuko, the sorrow of losing his wife really hit.

"My wife was gone, and our home had collapsed. I wanted to die," Mochida recalled.

His wife's death turned out to be the only direct death among all quake-related deaths in Mifune. Sometime later, the town mayor visited Mochida's home to express his condolences. Mochida then learned that his wife had called the town hall for help while she was trapped under the house.

"She went out of her way to care about others even though she was facing death herself," Mochida realized. He was once again hit by deep sorrow.

Spurred by his wife's courageous action, however, Mochida set his mind on looking forward, thinking, "I have three children that my wife gave birth to. I need to keep going."

Mochida now feels his age as he works in his paddies and fields, with bags of rice and tanks weighing heavily on his shoulders and waist. "I find myself doing the kind of work on my own that I used to share with my wife. I now realize how much my wife and I had helped each other through life."

The couple was supposed to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary in December last year. "She had this serenity about her, was a good cook and a sweet mother. We were looking forward to visiting the United States, where our relatives live, to celebrate our anniversary," Mochida said.

Since the summer of 2016, Mochida has been living on his own in an apartment leased by the Mashiki Municipal Government for disaster evacuees. He commutes to Mifune as he keeps busy preparing for rice planting in his paddies there.

"My grief won't ever disappear until I die. But I can't give in," he says.

Recently, a blueprint for a new home that he is going to build near his fields for him and his son's family to live in together was completed. "No one is to blame. I will face up to reality and move on," Mochida commented.

After all that's happened, he has some words for his wife: "Thank you for looking out for me for 50 years." (By Tadashi Sano, News Department, Kyushu Head Office)

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