Mother who lost daughter in Japan’s 3/11 disaster takes solace in pink cape

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nao Ono holds a cape that belonged to her daughter Korin in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 5.

KESENNUMA, Miyagi — Nao Ono keeps a pink cape by her side whenever she goes to sleep. The garment belonged to her then 6-year-old daughter Korin, who went missing after the family home was swept away by a tsunami during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Korin was a child of steady character and would often reel off maternal-sounding phrases, such as, “Mom, you should arrange your shoes properly,” or “Did you put your bag away?”

She loved ginkgo leaves but was afraid of pine cones, and would smile when her mother patted the soft spot between her eyebrows.

Korin’s smiling face remains vivid in Ono’s mind, but when she reaches for her daughter’s face in a photograph, all she feels is the cold, hard texture of the glass picture frame.

When younger, Ono left her hometown of Kesennuma to attend a junior college outside Miyagi Prefecture. Upon graduating, she worked in Tokyo and married at age 20. She became pregnant after she and her then husband sought fertility treatment, but things fell apart and they divorced. Upon returning to her parents’ home in Kesennuma, Ono gave birth to a baby girl when she was 30. She was a tiny baby weighing just 2,200 grams. Ono’s mother Shinobu had suggested “Korin” for her name.

Ono and Korin used to go shopping together after Ono finished her day’s work as an insurance salesperson. Korin always wore the cape, which Ono had bought online before her daughter entered kindergarten. Ono chose the outfit because she thought it would be easy to slip on and off. The cape was pink, Korin’s favorite color, and had rabbit ears on its hood. Just as Ono had expected, Korin wore it almost every day.

On March 11, 2011, Ono was having lunch with a colleague near JR Kesennuma Station when the violent jolt hit the area. She immediately called home. Ono’s mother answered the phone and said, “We’re okay.” Ono heard Korin in the background, asking, “Mom, when are you coming home?” That was the last time she heard her daughter speak.

While driving, Ono’s car was engulfed by the tsunami that swept through the town, but she managed to exit the vehicle and climb onto the roof of a house, where she spent the night.

Ono’s home, located several hundred meters from the sea, was swept away. The bodies of her parents — father Masato, 64, and mother Shinobu, 63 — were found, but Korin, who was due to enter elementary school that April, was never located.

Ono subsequently stayed at the home of an acquaintance, regularly visiting the morgue for several months to look for her daughter. When the pain became almost unbearable, she found the cape, with one of its buttons almost falling off, at a facility that displayed lost and found items. “It’s Korin’s,” Ono thought, shaking the dirt off the cape and hugging it.

Korin loved sparkling stones and said she would like to run a stone store in the neighborhood. To make her daughter’s dream come true, Ono opened a natural stone store on March 10, 2013, on the site of their former home. She named the store Calling, which sounds similar to her daughter’s name.

While working in the shop, she met Dai Ono, who visited the store while engaged in reconstruction work in Kesennuma. The two married seven years ago and now live in Sendai.

At their home in Sendai, Ono often speaks to her daughter’s cape, and her husband goes along. Ono would place a glass of juice and some snacks in front of the cape and say: “It was cold today. Aren’t you hungry?” Then her husband would say with a smile, “Let’s eat.”

Ono said she feels reassured that she has someone in her life now that she has to live without her daughter.

No matter how many years pass, Ono misses and loves Korin. But now she can say to her daughter, “I’m living my life with smiles, so you needn’t worry.”