SOMA, Fukushima -- The year after the March 11, 2011 tsunami claimed the life of her 18-year-old daughter, Reiko Katayama discovered a rose variety with exactly the same name: Misaki. Reiko gave the plant a home in her garden in this northeastern city, and has delighted in seeing it grow stronger and more beautiful each summer over the intervening seven years.
"I feel like Misaki is here close to me," says Reiko, 51.
The Misaki plant takes up one corner in a garden that boasts many rose varieties, but Reiko tends to its branches with a special affection. She adds, "The flowers have several layers of petals when they bloom, and they're really beautiful. They're a cute shade of pink, which Misaki really liked."
Misaki was the eldest of Reiko's two daughters. After graduating from the Fukushima Prefectural Shinchi High School, she was set to start studies at a culinary school in Sendai, capital of Miyagi Prefecture to the north, in April 2011. When Reiko returned home after Misaki's high school graduation ceremony on March 1, she a found little yellow rose plant in a pot on a dresser. Next to it was a note from her eldest daughter, which read, "I'm sorry for causing you so much trouble over the years," and, "Thank you so much for bringing me up."
On the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Misaki was at a driving school in the nearby town of Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, studying to get her license. Right after the quake hit, Reiko sent her daughter an email asking if she was all right. "I'm fine," came the reply. However, Reiko could not reach Misaki after that.
Her body was discovered 10 days later, beneath tsunami debris near the driving school. "Misaki!" Reiko called out for her daughter over and over again, but there would be no reply.
After Misaki was confirmed dead, Reiko found it painful to look at women about her eldest daughter's age. Whenever popular singing duo Yuzu's "Eiko no Kakehashi" (Bridge of Glory) -- played at the March 1 graduation ceremony -- came on the radio when Reiko was driving, she would remember Misaki's smiling face and break down in tears.
The roses that Misaki left on Reiko's dresser on graduation day dried out and died in the confused days that followed the earthquake. Just before the first anniversary of the disaster, Reiko heard from an acquaintance that there were "so many beautiful roses at a nearby flower shop, and went with her husband to have a look. She was looking at the blooms blankly when she suddenly spotted one that shared her lost daughter's name, and felt she had "met" Misaki once more. Reiko bought one -- just a single, leafless stem in a pot --and took it home.
She prepared a flower bed in the garden, planted the little stem, and began caring for it. "By looking after (the rose plant), I felt a reason to live," Reiko says.
The plant produced its first pale pink flower that summer.
Reiko clipped off the bloom and placed it in front of their home Buddhist altar, pressed her hands together and said, "See, it's flowered beautifully."
Reiko has joined a class action suit against the driving school where Misaki died, seeking answers on whether the facility fulfilled its duty to give its students' safety proper consideration. She also says there are times when she wonders, "What did my daughter's life mean after all?"
"It feels like time stopped for our family that day," says Reiko. Still now, she places Misaki's favorite breakfast -- bread, yoghurt, and coffee -- in front of her daughter's commemorative portrait. She does not do anything special to mark March 11, saying the same words she says every day: "You're watching over all of us, aren't you? Along with the Misaki rose in our garden."
(Japanese original by Shotaro Kinoshita, Yokohama Bureau)