SAPPORO – Twenty passengers and crew from the tour boat Kazu I which sank off the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido have been confirmed dead. But there were 26 people on board on that windy day in April, the Kazu I disappeared in rough seas. The last six remain “disappeared”, still not returned to their families.
“Time has stood still since that day,” says a 50-year-old man from Hokkaido City in Makubetsu, whose 42-year-old wife and 7-year-old son are two of six missing. Some of her family’s belongings were found and returned, including her boy’s Shinkansen bullet train-themed backpack, but they weren’t. “I want to say ‘Welcome Home’ soon,” the grieving husband and father told the Mainichi Shimbun.
His wife’s last words came to him in the form of a message on the line at 9.54am on April 23. She was vacationing with their son on the Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO-designated natural World Heritage area in northeast Hokkaido. It simply reads “Godzilla rock” and came under a photo of their 7-year-old looking happy as he posed in front of the kaiju-like natural feature.
The man replied at 10:55 a.m., “I’ve never heard of Godzilla rock! What are you going to see on the boat?” He never got an answer.
Just before the Kazu I set sail at 10:00 a.m., mother and son rushed to the ship’s operator Shiretoko Yuransen’s office to ask if they could still board. The employee who accepted the request put his name on the boarding list of the “Kazu III”, which turned around before heading to the tip of the Shiretoko peninsula. However, the mother told him, “No, that’s not true. It’s the one going to the cape,” referring to the Kazu I. The employee told them, “You’ll get there just in time.” This was all described to her husband later, by someone connected to the tour operator.
At the end of the afternoon, the man learned of Kazu I’s accident on the television news. At 5:29 p.m., he messaged Line to his wife: “Are you okay? The news reported that a Shiretoko tour boat was taking on water.” At 6:28 p.m. he wrote: “Please! Be careful please!” No matter how many times he looked at the chat, the “read” mark never appeared.
Her son’s backpack was found at the end of April. The boy had loved that backpack, and inside was a keychain the man had given him along with his glasses.
When the father touched the backpack, he said he could feel his wife’s love for their son. “I’m sure she put them (the glasses) in there to keep them from breaking. I can only imagine the terrible regret she must have felt when the boat she had taken our boy on for giving her good memories started to flow in. I often wished I was with them,” he says.
He says their son was bright and active, and always running around. He frequently went to a nearby level crossing to watch his favorite trains go by. The three of them have previously stayed in a hotel in Tokyo overlooking the stopped shinkansen trains. They celebrated the boy’s birthday there.
The mother, who was in a photography business, recorded her son’s journey through childhood on social media. When he entered elementary school, she snapped a photo and posted it with the words, “Finally first grade. He seems to have suddenly flipped his ‘big boy’ switch and thinks he must be serious now .”
Before they left for their trip to Shiretoko, the man promised his son that they would go to an exhibition in Rikubetsu, Hokkaido in early May to see a train. He also promised to buy her a bicycle when she returned from her trip. “I told him we would train together,” he said.
He adds that he still can’t believe his wife and son are gone. “I don’t care if it’s on a desert island or anywhere else, but I want them to be alive.” He prays and waits for them to come home.
Following the sinking of the Kazu I, the man lost 7-8 kilos at one point. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and is still on leave from work. He says he agreed to be interviewed anyway because he doesn’t want the accident to fade into the past.
“The heaviest responsibility lies with the operator, who had sloppy security management, low security awareness and a focus on profit. But the government is also to blame for allowing them to stay in business and just leaving a system as is that has no way to provide immediate rescue. I want a lot of people to know that,” he says.
(Japanese original by Yutaka Yamada, Hokkaido News Department)