Boy gets sibling decade after March 11 disaster killed pregnant mom

Courtesy of the Kozuchi family
Yuka Kozuchi, who died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, holds her son Yuhi in her arms in January 2011.

RIKUZEN-TAKATA, Iwate — Yuhi Kozuchi was not yet 17 months old when his pregnant mother died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Just last year, a decade after the disaster, Yuhi finally became an older brother.

On March 11, 2011, his father, Junichi, was performing duties as a volunteer firefighter in Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, and managed to evacuate the area. His mother, Yuka, was at her workplace about three kilometers from the coast and was swept away by the tsunami as she tried to escape. She was 24 and due to give birth to a daughter two months later.

Three days passed. When communications were restored, Junichi’s cell phone suddenly vibrated. It was a text message sent by Yuka about 30 minutes after the earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m. that day. The message contained what became her last words to her family: “Are you okay? Yuhi has been evacuated?”

Yuhi was a mama’s boy. Whenever he saw a young woman at the evacuation center he was in, he looked into her face to see if she was his mother. When he started living alone with his father in temporary housing, he would not leave his father’s side. A photograph of his mother smiling made Yuhi call her his “photo mom.”

Junichi was worried how he would raise Yuhi by himself.

Yuhi became passionate about soccer when he met a J.League player at an event to support the reconstruction of the area. However, when Yuhi was in the second grade, Junichi received a phone call from the teacher. The teacher told Junichi that Yuhi was alone in class after school and when the teacher spoke to Yuhi, the boy said, “I miss my mother.”

Junichi was surprised. Yuhi had never spoken about these feelings in front of him.

He couldn’t think of remarrying because he hadn’t sorted out his feelings. He sought out Yuka’s father, who was also a single parent, for advice. His father-in-law encouraged him, saying, “Don’t hesitate if you find a good match.”

Five or so years ago, Junichi, now 37, met his second wife, Nozomi, through a friend. He decided to remarry when the couple took Yuhi to a batting cage and felt that they could spend time together like a real family. When he said to Yuhi, “Let’s become a family,” Yuhi nodded and said, “All right.”

They began living in their rebuilt house on a plateau in the city.

Yuhi has few memories of Yuka, but he never forgets her. The presence of Nozomi, whom he calls “Non-chan,” is reassuring for him.

When Nozomi gave birth to a daughter, Hinami, in June

last year, Yuhi realized how hard it is to raise a baby. Now, Yuhi is grateful to Yuka and Nozomi.

“Yuhi is a kind child, helping me clean the bathtub and taking care of his younger sister,” said Nozomi, now 37. “Sometimes he doesn’t listen to me, though,” she laughed.

When 8-month-old Hinami moved her legs in delight in response to Yuhi playing peek-a-boo, he said, “It feels strange to have a younger sister.”

This spring, 12-year-old Yuhi will become a junior high school student. He vows to his birth mother, “Watch over me as I become a dependable big brother.”