Rescued Japanese boy dreams of helping disaster victims

Rescued Japanese boy dreams of helping disaster victims
Yuta Minagawa, right, practices judo in Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture.

UONUMA, Niigata - A 12-year-old boy who was miraculously saved from a landslide caused by the 2004 Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake said he would like to be a disaster rescue worker in the future.

Thursday marked the 10th anniversary of the disaster, which killed 68 people. Then 2 years old, Yuta Minagawa of Uonuma was rescued four days after his family's car was buried in the landslide. Today he is in the first year of middle school.

"In the future, I'd like to do a job that helps other people," said Yuta, expressing his gratitude for being saved and growing up with the support of many people around him.

The Oct 23, 2004, earthquake devastated the central region of Niigata Prefecture. Yuta was caught in a landslide in Nagaoka on his way back from a trip to Niigata with his mother, Takako, 39, and sister, Mayu, 3.

Both his mother and sister died.

"His diaper was so wet that I could hear it sloshing," a rescue worker at the scene recalled. "Another rescuer handed Yuta to me like he was a treasure."

Yuta now lives with his grandfather, Toshio, 78, and grandmother Miharu, 76. He is more than 1.7 meters tall, and he wears a 28-centimeter shoe. He is a member of his school judo club and practices hard after school and on weekends.

In June, Yuta won the beginner division of a judo meet in the city. "I want to be as strong as the senior members of my club," he said.

Yuta remembers very little about the earthquake. He remembers being in a dark place, lifted by a helicopter, and the wonderful taste of a yellow watermelon he ate at the hospital. Once or twice a year, he goes to the site where the landslide occurred with his grandparents to mourn his mother and sister.

He says he sometimes wonders why only he survived.

Yuta's dream is to become a Self-Defence Force member and work for disaster relief. "I want to do a job that helps other people because I was also helped by many people," Yuta said. The Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 reinforced this wish.

His grandfather Toshio said Yuta healed his grief over losing his daughter and granddaughter in the earthquake.

About two years ago, he told Yuta, "I wonder if I can live until you grow up." Yuta cried and told him, "Don't say such a sad thing."

"Without Yuta, I might have gone crazy by now," Toshio said. "Yuta is my life."

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