Yasuo Takamatsu explained to his instructor why, at 56, he wanted to learn to dive. "I'm trying to find my wife in the sea." Five years after Japan was ravaged by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami, Jennifer Percy tells an incredible story in the New York Times Magazine: That of Takamatsu and Masaaki Narita, two men searching the waters off Onagawa for the women they lost. Takamatsu's wife, Yuko, worked at the local branch of 77 Bank with Emi, Narita's 26-year-old daughter. It was only years later that the families of a dozen bank workers to die learned precisely what happened to their loved ones, through a 13th worker who survived. Believing the impending wave to measure 10 feet, the employees evacuated to the roof, which sat 30 feet above the ground. The waters rose to 65.
The daily absence of Yuko and Emi is palpable in Percy's telling: Each Sunday, Emi's mother deposits a decomposable lunchbox into the sea containing Emi's favorite dishes; in the first year after her daughter vanished, she did so daily. Percy captures nuances of the day and its aftermath that only magnify its horror: that it snowed on March 11, 2011, and was so cold that survivors succumbed to hypothermia while crawling toward a hospital; a forensic pathologist's explanation of how bodies decompose in the sea, with some turning soft as cheese and others tough as plaster. Neither Takamatsu nor Narita has found what he is looking for, though Takamatsu had as of January dove 110 times. He says, as the Times piece is headlined, "I have no choice but to keep looking for her. I feel closest to her in the ocean." You should absolutely read Percy's full piece. (Read more Japanese tsunami stories.)