On 9 November, 2011, a member of the Association for Aid and Relief Japan, Atsushi Miyazaki was killed while helping relief effort in an earthquake stricken region of Turkey.

Although Miyazaki had made the ultimate sacrifice for another country by laying down his life, the Turkish people also have shown an unending sense of gratitude by continuing to honor his name years later.

Atsushi Miyazaki was dispatched to Turkey with the AAR Japan following the 2011 Van earthquake which hit eastern Turkey in the afternoon of 23 October. He had only been a member of the association for a couple months before getting the orders, joining to help relief efforts in areas affected by the Tohoku Earthquake of the same year.

In the country only a short time Miyazaki was able to overcome language barriers and forge close ties with the Turkish people using only a phrase book. His job was to distribute food and water around to a number of shelters in the Van area.

The festival of Eid al-Adha ended on 9 November that year. Miyazaki and fellow AAR member Miyuki Konnai spent the day delivering extra meat to families in the worst hit areas for the holiday.

As the pair returned to their hotel in the evening to write up reports a 5.7-Magnitude aftershock hit and collapsed the building. Konnai survived with injuries but Miyazaki was among the 36 people who died beneath the rubble.

His body was flown back to Japan on a chartered jet after a ceremony was held at the airport in which the Japanese flag was draped over Miyazaki’s coffin.

One month later, a memorial service was held in Tokyo which was attended by 222 people including the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey. During services, Serbay Ekinoğlu, who worked closely with Miyazaki before his death, gave a touching eulogy.

Dear Miyazaki-san,

A famous writer once said “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give”.

I think this is the best sentence that explains your personality. You were the one who came to Turkey to help the earthquake victims all the way from Japan. You were the one who went to the poorest villages just to find the victims who are in need of help the most.

During the period you were in Van, you personally tried to contact people, even learnt some Turkish words from your Turkish book and treated everybody in a nice, caring way.

You cared about giving more than getting. In return you were able to have a good night’s sleep, thinking about your good deeds until the night of November 9th.

I also want to tell some nice anecdotes that we had. Two days before the sad event we went to the barber shop to get your hair cut. We tried hard to convince you as your hair got really long there, even when you were wearing the AAR cap your hair was coming everywhere out of the cap. Finally you said, “Okay let’s go.” And then you, Miyuki, I, and the driver, whom you called “Babam” (meaning “my father” in Turkish) went there and you took your glasses out and sat there to have the hair cut. When the barber started you were first little excited not knowing how the barber will cut the hair. I told you: “Miyazaki-san, don’t worry I will tell him to do it good and you will be handsome at the end”. After some time the barber turned to me and asked if you were sleeping as you weren’t saying anything, just standing still. After that you said that you are not sleeping but you can’t see without your glasses. So it was a total surprise for you at the end how your hair would look. Anyway, you and everybody liked your new hair style. And Babam (the driver) even said that he should find you a Turkish woman to marry and you said that you would love that.

You liked this idea as you would want to live in Turkey and as you also loved the Turkish food there.

We had some nice plans. You were going to come to Izmir, where I live and I was going to show you beautiful stuff in Izmir introducing you as a rich Japanese businessman.

But unfortunately you left the world too early.

You were an honest, hardworking man with a great sense of humor.

In closing I would like to tell condolences of the whole of Turkey. We are sad not to have you with us anymore.

I wish strength and patience to your family and to all your beloved ones. We share their grief.

Atsushi Miyazaki, thank you for being part of our lives. We are all going to miss you.           

December 6th, 2011
Serbay Ekinoğlu 

Two years on, to show that the Turkish people mean what they say, parks, streets, schools and dental clinics can be found named after Miyazaki throughout the countryA statue of Atsushi Miyazaki is also near completion and should be erected later this year in Miyazaki Park near the Black Sea.

Although it’s touching to see how these two distant countries grew a deep affection first through tragedy and then through charity, generosity, and respect, this story is also a sober reminder to acknowledge all the volunteers and emergency workers who risk their lives as much as possible.

Source: AAR Japan, Japan Daily Press (English) via Kotaro (Japanese)
Video: YouTube – TheLala445