NATORI, Miyagi Prefecture — Akane Ito still cannot bring herself back to the place where she became a symbol for the human misery in the aftermath of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Ito appeared in a photo on the front page of the March 14 Asahi Shimbun. She was shown sitting, barefoot and sobbing against a background of destruction and debris, in the Yuriage district of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture. The picture would later appear in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Ito says she was sobbing over her dogs that were killed in the disaster.
“I kept apologizing in my mind to my dogs for not being able to protect them,” Ito, 29, said, recalling the moment six months ago.
On March 13, two days after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck, Ito returned to the Yuriage district after the tsunami receded.
Her home was gone. And her 10 dogs could not be found.
Ito sat on the ground. She could not remember how long she stayed there, but she recalls not bothering to wipe away her tears.
The area was her favorite trail for walking her pets. Old men and women chatting were common sights in the area.
But all that was gone.
Ito works at a restaurant in the prefecture with her classmate from high school. Since the earthquake, Ito has thought about working at a place that takes care of animals.
“(Before the quake) I thought I would be fine as long as me and the people around me — my friends, boyfriend and family — were happy,” she says. “But …”
Ito says she received much support from others. Even at the evacuation center where she stayed, worried strangers tried to encourage her while others gave her household goods.
“My life was supported by many people,” she says. “I have come to feel like helping others, too.”
Ito now lives with her family in Shichigahama in the same prefecture. She was also reunited with two of her dogs.
She says it will take some time before she can return to Yuriage where the famous photograph was taken.
“I am just living every day hoping that a calm daily life will last forever,” she says.