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Survivor of tsunami-hit school pays tribute to classmates at coming-of-age ceremony

Taiga Suzuki attends a coming-of-age ceremony in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Jan. 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi -- A surviving student at an elementary school here that saw the loss of 74 students to tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 attended a coming-of-age ceremony on Jan. 13.

"I felt that I attended with other students from Okawa Elementary School," said Taiga Suzuki, 20, a second-year student at Sendai University. Suzuki, who was dressed in a gray suit and yellow bow tie, attended the ceremony in a district of the city of Ishinomaki, in the northeastern prefecture of Miyagi, with his classmates from junior high school.

On Jan. 14, Suzuki and the four other surviving students of the 21 who were sixth graders at Okawa Elementary at that time gathered in the city to see their teacher who had transferred from the elementary school before the incident. Suzuki said, "It has been a while since we met, but no one has changed." For Suzuki, "no one" also included his 16 classmates killed by tsunami.

On March, 11, 2011, Suzuki went to a school nurse's office due to sickness. Shortly after his father Shinichi, 56, picked him up by car, the earthquake hit the area. Suzuki evacuated inland with his family members from their house near the sea, and he hoped that other students would be able to safely evacuate. However, after a few days, his hopes were shattered and he was left in tears. "There was only a fine line between me and the victims."

It was hard for Suzuki to recall the days when he was a top player for the "Okawa Marines" baseball team in the city's Okawa district where he began playing baseball as a second grader at elementary school.

His father's advice to "do what you want to do" encouraged him to decide that he would show his respects to his deceased teammates by playing baseball.

Suzuki went to a baseball powerhouse high school in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. When he felt troubled, his memories of his Okawa baseball team motivated him. Suzuki returned to Miyagi to play baseball for Sendai University as he wanted to play near where the souls of his teammates lay. He commented, "I am driven by my deceased teammates to play baseball."

"I think my classmates are always by my side, so I want to live proudly (as an adult). We will see each other again someday," said Suzuki after the coming of age ceremony.

(Japanese original by Nobuyuki Hyakutake, Ishinomaki Local Bureau)

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