Woman missing after 2011 Japan tsunami inspires 600 dives, piano composition

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yasuo Takamatsu speaks at a concert as pianist Haruko Uehara listens on in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, on Oct. 9.
Courtesy of Yuko Takamatsu’s family
Yuko Takamatsu

A man whose wife remains missing following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami has made about 600 dives to search for her, inspiring a French composer to write a piano piece based on their “love story.”

On March 11, 2011, a massive tsunami approximately 20 meters high hit the building of the Onagawa branch of the 77 Bank in Miyagi Prefecture, killing four employees and leaving eight missing. Bank worker Yuko Takamatsu, then 47, evacuated to the roof of the two-story building, but was swept away. Her whereabouts remain unknown.

Yuko’s husband Yasuo subsequently trained to become a certified diver in order to search for his wife and continues diving in Onagawa Bay to this day. “I want to bring her home as soon as possible,” said Yasuo, 65, as he again headed out to the sea, some 11 years and 7 months after the disaster.

Sylvain Guinet, 44, learned of the events through news reports and decided to write an original piece dedicated to the couple’s story. The piano piece was performed at a concert in Onagawa on Oct. 9.

Despite the efforts of the Self-Defense Forces and the police, Yuko was never found, though her cell phone was recovered near the bank about a month after the tsunami.

“If she can’t be located on land, then she must be somewhere in the sea,” Yasuo recalls thinking. After gaining his diving license in February 2014 he began searching the bay’s seafloor 30 meters under water with a group of volunteers.

The seafloor was littered with debris, clothing, books, photo albums, fishing nets and other items thought to have been washed away by the tsunami. Though Yasuo has made about 600 dives, he has yet to find any of Yuko’s belongings.

Yasuo admits that the search is difficult given the vastness of the sea. He does not want to give up the search easily, but also confesses to “difficult” feelings, saying, “I’ve come to think that I may have no choice but to accept reality.”

‘Love story’

Explaining his reasons for composing the piano work, Guinet said, “I was moved by the story of the [couple’s] love, which lives on today.” Guinet contacted Yasuo through an acquaintance and asked for a photo of Yuko, which helped inspire the 5-minute-long piece. Guinet says he tried to evoke Yuko’s gentleness, calmness, smile and love through the music.

Yasuo first heard the work, titled “Yuko Takamatsu,” in April 2014, and since then, he has listened to it while driving to the sea and while at home in the evening. When hearing the music, Yasuo says he feels as if Yuko is there with him, and it warms his heart. He says his wife “lives on” through the music.

When “Yuko Takamatsu” was performed at the concert, the soft melody echoed throughout the venue. Yasuo, who sat in the front row with about 20 other audience members, listened with tears in his eyes. After the performance, he addressed the audience, saying: “The piece is exactly how I remembered my wife to be, and it invoked many memories. This is my treasure.”

Yasuo says he is determined to continue to search for his spouse, as long as he has the strength to do so.