'It's impossible to live here now'
THE grieving mother whose three month-old daughter was ripped from her arms by the tsunami never wants to live in her home town again; neither does the elderly man whose mother was killed and whose house was destroyed by the 30ft wall of water.
Japan may be rebuilding some of its communities at breakneck speed, but for the survivors of the tsunami, tortured by the horror of what happened a fortnight ago, there is no going back.
In Tona and Nobiru, neighbouring seaside villages on the coast 300 miles northeast of Tokyo, most cannot countenance a permanent return. Instead, they come for an hour or two to scramble among the ruins looking for photographs and other, deeply personal possessions.
"My father lived here for 70 years and even he doesn't want to be here any more," said Hiromi Onodera. "I was washed away by the tsunami. The wave hit me and pushed me into a doorway. I clung on to the door to survive."
She did not mention that in her arms at the time had been their daughter, Yume.
Her husband, Kenji, later told us: "She couldn't keep hold of the baby."
He showed a photograph of their daughter on his mobile phone, then burst into tears.
The couple were making their first trip back to Nobiru to search for photographs in the wreckage. Not a single house is left standing. The village has been wiped off the map and Mrs Onodera, wearing workers' overalls because all her clothes were destroyed, is certain she doesn't want it rebuilt. "Nothing should be built here again," she said.
Down the road in Tona, a village still only accessible on a government-requisitioned truck, Yoshio Isawa, 60, and his wife Makiko were struggling with bags on their backs in which were clothes and blankets they had salvaged.
"It is impossible to live here now," said Mr Isawa, who was born in the village and remembers a 1956 tsunami caused by an earthquake in Chile. "It is all too much. My mother was inside the house when the wave came. We found her body in the house down the street. We have no intention of ever coming back. I was just a boy in 1956 and that was so scary. Now I have seen this, it is as much as I can bear."
Yet in these two villages -- and despite the havoc wrought -- reconstruction was already under way last week. Buildings were being picked through by teams of soldiers, and then demolished; about 100 cars had been pulled from wherever they landed and laid out in a school playground ready to be scrapped. Roads had been repaired and tens of thousands of gallons of seawater were being pumped from the surrounding fields.
In Sendai, which was the biggest city hit by the wave, routine life is returning. Last week, the power was restored and the neon lights switched back on. The buses started running; shops stocked fresh food for the first time in a fortnight; restaurants reopened and commuters began to return to work. Even petrol stations began selling fuel again, albeit with queues of half a mile.