TOKYO (The Yomiuri Shimbun) – Last Saturday marked three months since an eruption of Mount Ontake killed 57 people and left six missing.
A couple whose only son died in the disaster has begun exchanging letters and emails with a mountain guide who survived the deadly eruption atop the 3,067-metre-high (10,062-foot) mountain straddling Nagano and Gifu prefectures.
The couple says they want to be the first to climb the mountain after climbing regulations are lifted so that they can lay flowers at the spot where their son died.
“We want to know why our son, whom we raised with great care, had to die,” said the parents of victim Hirokazu Akiyama, who was found near a shrine at the volcano’s peak, as they flipped through albums filled with pictures of their son at their home in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture.
Akiyama, who was 25 at the time and living in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, was caught in the eruption while climbing the mountain with eight colleagues from his office.
Akiyama’s father Noriyuki, 56, and his mother Hideko, 57, asked them how he tried to escape and why his climbing pack remained undamaged while his outerwear contained holes.
But his colleagues had no answers as they had evacuated separately.
Though his parents also got in touch with other bereaved families, they were unable to uncover information on what happened to their only son.
Under such circumstances, Akiyama’s parents found an article on a collection of notes taken by a female mountain guide who had compiled her experience and lessons from the incident at Mount Ontake.
The article was carried in The Yomiuri Shimbun’s morning edition on November 28.
The couple contacted guide Sayuri Ogawa in Iijima, Nagano Prefecture, saying that they “wanted to read the notes” and have been exchanging letters and e-mails with her since then.
Although Ogawa did not personally see Akiyama when the volcano erupted, she told his parents, “(The climbers) may have been able to find shelter (shortly) after the first eruption.”
“To think that there was a possibility that my son could have come back alive makes my heart ache,” said Noriyuki, upon hearing the news. “But I would do anything to find out what happened (when the mountain erupted) since there’s no way for me to ask him.”
Over the past three months, the couple has received several hundred photos of their son from his friends.
Each of the images captures his smile during mountain climbing trips, parties and other occasions.
Akiyama’s friends also told his parents about aspects of him that his parents did not know.
One of them said he acted as an emcee at parties, while another said he visited a cram school where he used to work part-time, worried about students he once taught.
In a letter to Akiyama’s parents on December 8, Ogawa wrote: “Just looking at the mountain probably makes you feel sad. But if you ever feel like visiting, let me be your guide.”
In her reply, Hideko said, “I hope to be the first person to set foot on it.”
The couple said they wish to go with Ogawa to the place where their son experienced his last moments, so they can tell their only son, “You have grown up well.”