OSAKA -- One week after a strong earthquake hit northern Osaka Prefecture, those in the disaster-hit areas are remembering two victims of collapsed walls, whose smiles have been lost forever.
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The June 18 quake, which measured lower 6 on the 7-point Japanese seismic intensity scale, took the lives of a kindhearted young girl who always carried band aids with her so she could look after her friends if they got injured and an elderly man who was devoted to his duties watching over children on their morning commute to school.
On the morning of the earthquake, 9-year-old fourth-grader Rina Miyake smiled as she greeted a neighbor on her way to Takatsuki Municipal Juei Elementary School in the city of Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture. The greeting was the same as every morning, but soon after, disaster struck. The concrete block wall around her school's pool facility collapsed onto the school route, trapping Miyake fatally beneath it.
The wall that towered above the girl was found to have been constructed illegally, and suspicions that her death was due to human error are growing. "I think her death may save the lives of her friends," a male relative of Miyake said. "I want them to tear down dangerous block walls so this tragedy never ever happens again."
Miyake's funeral services were held on June 21 in Takatsuki. Attendees say that during his eulogy, her father read a letter he gave his daughter when she entered elementary school hoping for her happiness. In the letter, he listed 10 promises he wished for her to keep, such as to always work hard for other people and to try many things in life. With a tired expression, he is quoted as saying, "She was a daughter that always kept her promises. I am proud of her."
At the end of the funeral, the theme song of the Studio Ghibli film "Whisper of the Heart," "Country Road," echoed through the venue. Miyake is said to have often sung the song. Hearing the song, the venue was wrapped up in tears.
Meanwhile, in Osaka's Higashiyodogawa Ward, 80-year-old Minoru Yasui was also killed when a residential block wall collapsed on him. He was on his way to his duties watching over children making their morning commute to school when the wall suddenly crumbled. Yasui had continued to watch over the children of the neighborhood with a protective eye for over 10 years. At the site of his death, there is a daily flow of flowers and sweets placed in tribute and an endless flow of students visiting the spot to offer their prayers.
On the evening of June 21, Kansai University Hokuyo Junior High School third-year student and captain of the rugby team, Seigo Toshikawa, 15, visited the site to offer his prayers to Yasui with five other club members. "Yasui not only looked after the elementary school students, but made sure to talk to each junior high and high school student individually," he said. Fellow third-year student Shoki Nishioka, 15, added, "It was always a given that he would be there every day. I wish I would have spoken to him more."
To the children, Yasui could have been their great-grandfather. On two packages of sweet bread laid at the scene, two girls scribbled messages to the effect that they were sad they would no longer be able to hear him say good morning, and addressed the messages of thanks and farewell to "great-grand dad."
"He was a person who felt a sense of responsibility for us to protect the children," said Hachiro Nishida, 78, who is also a member of the activities looking after commuting students. "I will continue these activities in honor of his aspirations."
(Japanese original by Koji Endo, Kensuke Yaoi, Kohei Chiwaki, Yoshitake Matsuura and Tsuyoshi Yamada, Osaka City News Department)