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Ex-teacher who lost daughter to tsunami in Japan streams class from ruins of her school

Former junior high school teacher Toshiro Sato, left, livestreams a class in front of the remains of Okawa Elementary School in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 11, 2020. Sato, who lost one of his daughters to the tsunami ensuing the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, hoped his lecture would provide an opportunity for people to think about disaster prevention. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)
An 11-year-old boy watches Toshiro Sato's online class from a laptop at his home in the city of Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, on March 11, 2020. The screen shows the floor of a classroom that remains ravaged by the tsunami ensuing the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. (Mainichi/Shuji Ozaki)

A former junior high school teacher held an online class on March 11 on life lessons at the now-defunct Okawa Elementary School in northeastern Japan, which lost 84 students and school staff in the tsunami ensuing the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Toshiro Sato, 56, shared lessons from the disaster with primary, junior high and high school students in some 40 households across the nation. Children took part in his class from their laptops and other devices at home, as schools in Japan remain closed due to coronavirus concerns.

He used a smartphone to livestream his lecture, which began in a sixth-grade classroom where his 12-year-old daughter Mizuho had studied before she was killed in the tsunami. Speaking in a calm voice, Sato said, "I would like everyone to know that children, around the same age as you, had been smiling here until that day."

Sato is an adviser to Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Katariba, which organized the online class, held on the ninth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake at the remains of the school in the Miyagi Prefecture city of Ishinomaki.

Katariba provides educational support in disaster-hit areas and other places, and has been offering online classes for all students in Japan following the recent closures of schools.

The 56-year-old eventually walked up to a mountain just behind the school building, a site that could have saved the students' lives if they evacuated there soon after the quake on March 11, 2011. "Tsunamis aren't scary. It's scary to underestimate and assume that it's safe here," he said. "We can't avoid natural disasters, but we can change the future in which hundreds of thousands of people could lose their lives."

An 11-year-old boy in the fifth grade in the Ibaraki Prefecture city of Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo, watched Sato's lecture and commented, "I feel we need to know about it (the disaster), because something similar could happen again one day."

(Japanese original by Shuji Ozaki, Tokyo Local News Group, and Nobuyuki Hyakutake, Ishinomaki Local Bureau)

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