‘March 11 Newborns’ in Disaster-Stricken Areas Turn 12 Years Old

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Makoto Segawa, left, and his wife Fumika relax on the sofa at home with their son Tora, who was born on the day of the earthquake, in Sendai on Feb. 19.

Twelve years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. So many people were killed in the unprecedented disaster, while more than 100 new lives were born in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures on the same day. This spring they graduated from elementary school. These children were born to bring hope to the disaster-stricken areas and be the future of the region.

“We were born in 2011, the year of the great earthquake. We can play sports now thanks to people all over the world who have helped us.”

In a promotional video made by Miyagi Prefecture prior to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, Tora Segawa, born in Sendai on March 11, 2011, expressed his gratitude to people who provided support after the disaster.

Tora’s father, Makoto, 48, is a former player for the J-League soccer team Vegalta Sendai.

Tora loves physical activity. He has been playing soccer at Vegalta’s school since he was in kindergarten. Now, while preparing to enter junior high school, he plans to do new and challenging things in addition to soccer.

Tora was born 37 minutes after the earthquake. His mother, Fumika, 50, was in a delivery room enduring labor pain when the quake hit.

The quake shook the hospital building so violently that she feared it might collapse. She evacuated outside at first, but was then told to give birth on a cot at the back of the hospital’s reception area on the first floor.

Due to the power outage, she had to rely on the light of a flashlight. The intensifying labor pain and the fear of the continuing aftershocks caused her to shout, “No, I can’t!”

“You can! You must give birth,” Makoto said, continuing to encourage her.

“I thought we all might be killed in the earthquake, but I prayed to God to let the three of us meet with each other as a family, even if it was just for a second,” he said.

Fumika finally gave birth. The couple named the baby Tora, which means tiger, in the hope that he would live like the strong animal.

After Fumika was discharged from the hospital, the couple was short of food and daily necessities. Fortunately, hearing of Tora’s birth, teammates and supporters of Makoto brought in food and lined up at supermarkets to buy milk and diapers.

As the family continued to interact with those who had supported them for a long time after the disaster, Tora himself gradually came to understand how those around him had helped. He loves taking care of younger children and his grandparents. His parents hope that Tora will continue to be kind to people and repay the support he received in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The Segawa family have a motto: “To live happily every day.”

At the root of this motto is their gratitude for having been able to overcome the disaster and live a healthy life. The family of three will continue to live with this attitude.

Full of energy having overcome surgery

“At the time, I didn’t know how things would look for us, like, a month or a year later. Now, I am so happy that Mizuki has been growing so well,” said Kyoko Kinoshita, 42, mother of Mizuki Kinoshita, who was born in Sendai at 12:04 p.m. on March 11, 2011.

Kyoko delivered Mizuki by cesarean section. The amniotic fluid was higher than normal. Before Mizuki was born, it was suspected that she had a defect that meant her duodenum was not connected properly, preventing her from digesting milk. Surgery was necessary immediately after birth.

The earthquake occurred in the middle of preparations for the operation. Surgery was consequently postponed.

Kyoko recalled: “We didn’t know when she would be able to have the surgery as the aftershocks were continuing. We were worried about whether it would really happen.”

It was so painful for Kyoko to see Mizuki in the neonatal intensive care unit with a tube in her mouth. A week later, when the aftershocks were occurring less frequently, the decision was made to perform the surgery. A baby’s intestines, however, are so delicate that there was no guarantee of success if a major aftershock occurred during the surgery. The day before the surgery, her father, Kaname, 43, prayed for its success alone at a shrine near his home.

The surgery was successful and no aftershocks occurred. At that moment, Kyoko “was relieved of tension” for the first time since giving birth.

Mizuki, who now lives in Mito, is as healthy as other children her age. She loves to run and has participated in a marathon event. She takes good care of her younger sister, Tomona, 7. Mizuki also likes making handicrafts, drawing and learning about history among other activities.

Kaname said: “I assume she was born on that day for some reason. I hope she will find the reason and contribute to the world and society in the future based on that.”

Hoping that day will come, her parents affectionately appreciate Mizuki’s growth.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mizuki Kinoshita, second from right, who was born on the day of the earthquake, walks toward the junior high school that she will soon enter in Mito on Feb. 12 with her father Kaname, far left, mother Kyoko, far right, and younger sister Tomona.