Masanori Yamashita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
MINAMI-SANRIKU, Miyagi--"At 2:46 p.m., March 11, I was in the middle of my fifth lesson at school."
So begins the diary of sixth-grade primary school student Karen Sasaki of Minami-Sanriku Town, who has been sharing her experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake through public readings.
Her honest record of the fearful quake and tsunami, as well as her feelings toward her beloved family, are also drawing attention on YouTube.
Karen continued to depict the moments right after the quake at Shizugawa Primary School. A usually impish boy in her grade started to cry, she said, and her younger brother, a third-grader, was crouching down, shaking, in the schoolyard. She later wrote about being at a gymnasium.
"Because of aftershocks, the electric lamps and gymnasium's ceiling shook and made a tremendous noise. After each aftershock, people rushed to the gymnasium's exit in panic," she wrote.
"My house, my friend's house...everything became so messy," she added.
Karen and her family lived above an izakaya pub run by her father, Shin, 40. Their house was swept away by the tsunami, and all that remained after of the town's disaster-prevention hall nearby was its iron frame. But all of Karen's five family members were safe.
After March 11, Karen's family moved in with her mother Yumi's parents, and her father reopened his bar. Whenever volunteer groups from other prefectures visited the bar, Shin told them about his family and his experience of the disaster. One day, some volunteers told him they wanted to hear about the disaster from his daughter's viewpoint, too.
Karen was eager to share her experiences as soon as she heard about the request. Although concerned that the disaster was still too raw for his daughter, Shin decided to watch closely over Karen to see how she fared. She soon filled nine pages of a notebook with her feelings and record of the day's events.
She told of learning immediately after the quake that Minami-Sanriku had been totally destroyed. She also wrote of the difficulty and pain she felt when she was unsure if her father was safe.
Karen spent the night with other students at the school, covering herself with newspaper to try and stay warm. She also wrote of being able to find her father at the gymnasium the following day.
"I could be strong and hold on after I found my father," she wrote.
It was September when she first read aloud from her diary in front of about 30 volunteers who had gathered at a small inn in the town. Some of them could not hold back their tears. Karen remembers some of them telling her they could feel how much she cherished her family.
She has since given public diary readings on a number of occasions, including to a Tokyo welfare organization, a group of primary school students and a group of parents and their children.