RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan — When the earth shook on March 11, 2011, Katsuo Saito knew he had to escape to higher ground. He didn’t wait for the tsunami sirens.
“As a child I was told, once the tremors hit, you need to run away as high as possible.” The fisherman from Rikuzentakata watched from a bluff as the tsunami hit. Raging water washed away everything in its path, including his fishing boat. Saito figured it was the last he’d see of the “Sai-sho-Maru” fishing boat.
Almost exactly two years later, a government official knocked on Saito’s door with news. His 20-foot fishing boat washed ashore nearly 4,500 miles away in Long Beach, Washington. Amazingly, five fish were found living inside. The beak fish, native to Japan, appear to have hitched a ride.
Saito didn’t want the boat back, so it was donated the Columbia River Maritime Museum, where the “Sai-sho-Maru” is now on display in Astoria, Oregon.
“I love this boat. It survived. So should I,” said Saito, while looking at photos of the boat. “It is so surprising how far it has traveled, all the way to the United States.”
We presented Saito with a handle and piece of rope removed from his boat. The museum asked that we return the items to fisherman in Japan.
“We will put it into the shrine,” said Saito as he walked toward a room filled with family heirlooms and treasures.
Saito hoisted the box of boat pieces onto a shelf in the family’s shrine. It sits across the room from photos of deceased family members, including his daughter. She was 43 years old, married and had two children. She died in the tsunami. She was a nurse in Ishinomaki. Saito and his wife walked for three days over broken roads after the tsunami to located and recover her body.
The couple explained that it was comforting to have part of their boat back. They only wish they could see their daughter again too.