Yasuo Takamatsu, 57, grunts with the effort of hoisting a scuba diving tank onto his back, as he prepares to step into the cold waters off Japan’s tsunami-ravaged coast to look for the body of his wife, one of thousands still missing three years on.
A swell lifts the wooden boat as he tugs on an over-sized rubber dry-suit that will protect him from the chill when he sinks into the murky, March-grey Pacific Ocean, just days before the anniversary of the disaster.
“She was a gentle and kind person,” said Takamatsu. “She would always be next to me, physically and mentally. I miss her, I miss the big part of me that was her.”
Takamatsu, a bus driver by trade, was never a natural candidate for learning to scuba dive and was worried he would not be able to do it.
But he feels driven to the water when he thinks about the last time he heard from his wife Yuko, before the nearly 20-metre (66-foot) wave engulfed her.
In a text message sent at 3.21 pm, half an hour after a huge undersea earthquake shook Japan on Friday, March 11, 2011 and unleashed a towering tsunami that travelled with the speed of a jet plane towards the Japanese coast, Yuko said simply: “I want to go home”.
“That was the last message from her,” he said.
“I feel terrible thinking she is still out there. I want to bring her home as soon as possible,” he said.
Weeks later, while scouring the area, bank workers found Yuko’s mobile phone and handed it back to Takamatsu.
He dried it off and fired it up to see that she had written a text message he had never received, at almost exactly the time the water was thought to have reached the roof of the bank.
“‘Tsunami huge’. That was all she wrote in the very last one,” he said.