What I Didn't Teach My Students March 14 at 3:23 in a school where 12 people died.
"I should have taught you this,"
I never thought until that day that there would be a class that I would regret for the rest of my life.
After that class, I lost 14 students.
I have been running for 12 years with regrets on my shoulders.
He will retire this spring.
March 3 was the graduation ceremony
Mr. Shin Yamori, principal of Yuriage Elementary and Junior High School, an integrated elementary and junior high school in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture. At the time, he was the head teacher at Yuriage Junior High School, the predecessor of this school.
Think back to March 12, 3 years ago.
It was a graduation ceremony.
After the students left school, I was cleaning up in the gymnasium.
At that time, I was struck by a long, violent tremor that I had never experienced before.
While guiding residents to evacuate in the schoolyard, a black sandstorm was seen from the direction of the sea.
People are running to school.
I took the hand of a nearby old lady and climbed the stairs of the school building.
On the way, I heard the sound of something hitting the school building.
It was the tsunami of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Students are not evacuating
About 850 residents evacuated to the school building.
While the first floor was covered with water and mud, we huddled together and spent the night.
In the staff room, I make a list of evacuees.
At that time, the school had about 150 students.
Only about 20 people have evacuated to the school.
Are the other kids okay?
I hope they evacuate properly...
Days of going to the morgue
However, reality is soon confronted.
A second-year male student has died, he has been reported.
I left the follow-up of the students to the homeroom teacher, and I went to the morgue.
There may be students there who haven't been found.
While some police officers were students, I asked every day, "Were there any junior high school students?"
One by one, they are found.
In fact, I still can't remember how I felt back then.
I also came face to face with the bodies of the students, but for some reason there were no tears.
As a teacher, I couldn't be sadder.
And you should be sad...
At the morgue, they sometimes met with parents looking for their children.
The mother of the student, who came to look for her every day and said, "I haven't found it yet," couldn't find the words to reply.
Some families of students cry when their children are found.
Did he think that he shouldn't feel sad beside the person who was grieving the most?
However, I went to the morgue with a sense of mission that "I have to do it."
Some people were worried about me getting some rest, but I didn't feel tired at all.
The last child was found nearly two months later by DNA testing.
We lost the lives of 1 precious students.
At Yuriage Junior High School, 14 people died, making it the junior high school with the highest number of casualties in Miyagi Prefecture. In addition to the three third-year students who had just completed the graduation ceremony, seven second-year students and four first-year students died. Both cases were caused after students returned home from school.
What was not taught to students
I have always regretted it.
It was March 3, two days before the earthquake.
At that time, the subject I was teaching was science.
The theme of the first-year class was "Earthquakes."
So I taught them according to the textbook.
In this class, we did not tell them that if an earthquake occurs, a tsunami may occur.
Even though the school is so close to the sea.
The school was also an evacuation site.
If I had been able to say, "If there is a big earthquake, please flee to this school,"
I might have saved my life.
Every student who died, every one of them, would have had a future they wanted to live in.
Even now, I continue to regret that moment.
Thoughts on the 14
There are places where I find time to visit.
It is a memorial to the 14 students.
When they come to the front, they stroke the children's names engraved on them one by one.
"This kid was in the kendo club, and he forgot his armor for a match and borrowed it from the opposing school to play a match, and I laughed while scolding him, saying, 'What are you doing?'" "
I warned him that this child was a cheerful child, and even though he was a girl, he was taking classes with his legs spread."
"This child's father lost all his family members, and I wonder if he has been doing well since then."
What comes to mind is everyday life with a deceased student.
And the faces of the students' families.
I have never forgotten the last 12 years.
I will never forget it.
Focused on disaster prevention education
Even after the earthquake, I have been involved with the children of Yuriage.
Since 2015, he has served as assistant principal of Yuriage Junior High School, which has become a temporary school building, and in 2018, he became the principal of Yuriage Elementary and Junior High School, which opened as an integrated elementary and junior high school.
The most important thing I wanted to emphasize in school development was disaster prevention education.
However, as a school in the disaster-stricken area, it was nerve-wracking.
Some of the students have experienced earthquakes and tsunamis and lost loved ones.
There was a time when I refrained from showing images of the tsunami because I thought it would remind me vividly of the disaster.
To be a child who can protect his or her own life
In 2018, I started going on a seaside excursion.
I wanted people to feel that Yuriage is near the sea.
In class, I gradually began to use footage from the time of the earthquake.
I tried to tell them what was happening in the area where the school was located without looking away.
The most important thing is how to act specifically in an emergency.
On the monthly disaster prevention learning day, evacuation routes are confirmed according to disasters such as fires and heavy rains, as well as earthquakes.
Then, evacuation drills are conducted together with local people.
They also conduct handover drills in the event of a disaster, which is not often held at junior high schools.
When at school, the teacher protects.
When you're at home, your mom or dad will protect you.
But when you're alone, when you're playing with friends, you have to make your own decisions.
So that you can make the right decision at that time.
"I want them to become children who can protect their own lives,"
he says, hoping that this much will be conveyed from his regrets at the time of the earthquake.
But I'm getting older and I'm 60 years old.
He will reach retirement age this month.
"The Last Speech"
On March 3, I decided to talk about the earthquake at a meeting where all the students at the school gathered.
I wrote a manuscript of what I wanted to convey.
This was my last opportunity to talk about the disaster in front of the entire school.
"In the Great East Japan Earthquake, Yuriage was severely damaged. Fourteen students died at Yuriage Junior High School. It was a graduation ceremony on the day, and the third-year junior high school students had just graduated in the morning. These are people who had a future. These were people who were trying to make their dreams come true and become adults. Since the entrance exams for public high schools had already ended, some of them passed the exam after the earthquake by announcing their results. He died without knowing that he had passed. There was such a sad thing.
That's why I hope that everyone in this disaster-stricken Yuriage school will be alive forever. To that end, please develop the ability to protect your own life. Tell Yuriage what happened. If you tell them, everyone will evacuate when there is a big earthquake.
The principal doesn't have much time to tell you anymore. I hope that young people will pass it on for decades. Please cherish life. Take care of the people around you. Be a person who can think about the life of the other person.
And I want everyone to live happily ever after."
What he wanted to convey to the students was put into his 10-minute speech.
On March 3 this year
The next day, March 12, 3 years after the earthquake.
In addition to the cheerfulness of spring, Yuriage was sunny.
Under a clear blue sky, I was in front of the cenotaph where I spend my annual life.
Teachers, students, and bereaved families of Yuriage Junior High School at the time of the earthquake gathered.
No one is meeting here.
Still, these are the people who have gathered to spend time here.
Carrying regrets on your shoulders
"Thank you for your hard work, Mr. Hachimori, until retirement,"
Yuko Tanno, the mother of the deceased student, calls out.
Tanno, who lost his son Kota, has been teaching children about the earthquake disaster at school since last year.
Applause breaks out of nowhere.
Still, I don't really feel like I'm retiring.
On the spot, I wrote a message to 14 people on the balloon.
"How are you, you're graduating."
The balloons flew high into the sky on the wind.
My teaching career was very different from what I had envisioned, but it was coming to an end.
If you ask me if it was something that could be reported to the children who died, I can only say, "I'm sorry I couldn't protect it."
I am prepared to carry only regrets on my back for the rest of my life.
Katsumata, a reporter for the Social Affairs Department, joined the Sendai Bureau
in 2010 and met Ms. Yamori, who continues
to cover the Great East Japan Earthquake,
where she currently belongs
, at the opening ceremony five years ago.