Letter from boy killed in tsunami rallies grandma

SENDAI - More than three years after her grandson's death in the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, a woman living in disaster-affected Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, received a letter from him. Katsuko Takahashi, 63, had been thinking of closing her restaurant due to poor health. Her late grandson's words, however, encouraged her to keep the business going.

The letter, sent with a portrait of Takahashi, was written by then 10-year-old Ryusei Ogata, who was a fourth-grader at Okawa Primary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. All the school's 74 students died or went missing in the tsunami. Ryusei's letter to Takahashi was found in May when Ryusei's 42-year-old mother was tiding up his room, and she gave it to Takahashi.

According to Takahashi, the letter was found neatly folded in a toy box.

The message, with a portrait drawn using coloured pencils, read: "I hope you'll do your best for your restaurant. I want you to live for a long time." Ryusei also expressed his gratitude to Takahashi by writing, "Thank you for always being kind to me. Thank you for always buying me various things."

When the earthquake and tsunami hit on March 11, 2011, Takahashi had already been hospitalized in Sendai. Ryusei used to visit her at the hospital almost every week before the disaster.

Takahashi said she could not keep back her tears when she received the letter, which Ryusei had presumably intended to hand to her directly. "Maybe he wanted to encourage me, so he wrote the letter secretly. Thank you, Ryu-chan," she said, recalling when she had first read the letter.

In the tsunami, Takahashi lost her house and izakaya Japanese-style restaurant, which she ran as the sole employee, in Higashi-Matsushima. She opened a restaurant at a temporary building in October 2011, but was hospitalized again to receive treatment for her lower back this year. Takahashi left the hospital three months later but was barely able to stand. She received the letter from her grandson when she had started preparing to close her restaurant.

"I've been crying constantly for three years because of the hard times. But the letter made me realise that I have to live a long time in a good health for Ryu-chan," Takahashi said. Takahashi has decided to continue running the restaurant at a temporary building, and rebuild her own restaurant someday.

Ryusei liked drawing, and he often showed Takahashi pictures of animals he drew. He loved sea urchins and would visit her at the restaurant to enjoy rice bowl meals with sea urchin on top. "Ryu-chan is my treasure forever. I won't be defeated and will do my best," Takahashi said to the picture of Ryusei smiling on the display of her mobile phone.