Japan tsunami: Coming home

JAPAN - Retired truck driver Takao Onoki, 70, was hellbent on rebuilding his home after the tsunami, even if it meant going it alone.

In September 2011, five months after living in a hotel, an evacuation centre and a temporary housing complex, Mr Onoki started rebuilding his home, alone. His 60-year-old wife and 29-year-old daughter refused to return with him - they were still too traumatised.

The furniture and flooring were swept away during the tsunami but the house's structure - including beams and pillars - were intact.

Mr Onoki had to sleep on a mattress in a closet on the second floor because it was the only spot not soaked by seawater.

"Although living alone is lonely, the process of rebuilding my house helped me fight the feeling of hopelessness and depression."

Mr Onoki was alone on a beach holiday in Nobiru, an hour's drive away, when the first earthquake hit his home in Mitsumata, Ishinomaki. He reached home just as the first tsunami wave inundated his house, sweeping him into a warehouse. He managed to grab a ladder and get to the second floor of the warehouse, where he spent the night in the frigid seawater with only his lighter keeping him warm.

"I thought I was going to die... I don't know if I am fortunate to have lived after being swept into the tsunami, or unfortunate that I survived. But the fact is that I am alive now, so I must do my best to stay healthy," says Mr Onoki who was working as a part-time construction worker until he injured his back in April.

With outstanding bank loans to be paid, Mr Onoki hopes to get back into the workforce.

"I need to prepare for the future."