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Remembrance held in L.A. for Japan tsunami victims

Dozens of people gather for a memorial ceremony outside LAPD headquarters downtown two years after the disaster that killed more than 18,000 people.

March 11, 2013|By Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times
  • Community members stop and say a prayer at incense stations during a memorial service in downtown Los Angeles honoring those who lost lives in the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Community members stop and say a prayer at incense stations during a memorial… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

Masako Unoura-Tanaka fears that the world will forget the horror of March 11, 2011, when 100-foot-tall swells barreled into northeastern Japan.

The tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 9 quake, killed more than 18,000 people and battered nuclear reactors in Fukushima, setting off the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

Unoura-Tanaka had been visiting relatives in coastal Kesennuma that day and escaped by abandoning her vehicle and climbing to the top of a four-story building.

"When I was on the roof, I was watching these ladies," she said. "They were swept away."

Unoura-Tanaka knows how difficult it can be to keep a spotlight on any tragedy, no matter how harrowing. So on Sunday, for the second year, she did her part to remind Los Angeles. She organized a memorial downtown called Love to Nippon, an effort she said she felt she owed to the dead, including the relatives she lost.

"You have to keep telling people how devastating it was," she said, and how much rebuilding remains to be done.

In Japan, one of the world's richest nations, more than 300,000 evacuees live in temporary housing. Officials have estimated that a decade could pass before everyone is resettled. Parts of the coastline resemble Louisiana's after Hurricane Katrina struck: gutted buildings, smashed cars and fishing vessels tossed ashore.

On Sunday, dozens of people gathered outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, wearing the black attire and somber expressions of funeral-goers. Some clutched white lilies. A warren of booths offered information about disaster aid and preparedness.

One sign asked the crowd to write messages to residents of the still-reeling Tohoku area. "Many of them often mention … what they are really scared of," it said. "It's 'To be forgotten.' "

Around 2:30 p.m., under a cloudless sky, a ceremony of remembrance began.

A group of monks, dressed in black and gold, chanted over the whir of downtown traffic. In front of them were four folding trays: two covered in red cloth, two in purple, each with incense burning.

Some mourners approached the tables, placed their palms together, whispered and bowed their heads. Others left red, pink and white flowers on the ground.

Then a pastor dressed in white offered a prayer for the tsunami survivors. He said he hoped "the past is not a ghost to haunt them nor a stick to beat them."

Patty Nagano, 64, remembered the past as she listened. She had to, she said.

Shortly after the tsunami, she said, "I just knew we had to go do something." So she and her husband flew from Los Angeles to Japan. They headed to gutted Ishinomaki, where they helped volunteers clear out debris.

One day, her husband asked a local man what more they could do. His request was simple, she recalled.

"Don't forget."

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