KAMAISHI – Kenichi Suzuki, 72, gently stroked an orange school bag hanging on the wall of the entrance of a temporary house in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, where he lives now.
Suzuki said his granddaughter Riko is “still a primary school student in my mind.”
Riko, who was an 11-year-old fifth-grader at the time, was wearing her school bag when she died in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Before the disaster, Suzuki and his 64-year-old wife were living with their son, his son’s wife and Riko. He lost everyone to the tsunami that followed the earthquake.
Three months later, Suzuki came across Riko’s bag in a place in the city that was keeping the mementos of victims, like photographs and watches, which were left behind by the tsunami.
Suzuki had bought Riko her school bag to celebrate her enrollment in primary school. “Thanks, Grandpa,” Riko said at the time. Her grandfather still remembers her smile.
Riko’s classmates are now in their first year of high school. Suzuki intends to set aside a room for Riko when he rebuilds his house.
“I’ve got to do that for her, poor thing,” Suzuki said, planning to place her school bag in her room. “Even if it’s in a dream, I want her to call me ‘Grandpa’ just once more.”