Sole survivor 'will never forget'

20:21, Feb 23 2014
Mayumi Asakawa
SOLE SURVIVOR: Mayumi Asakawa, who was away from the CTV building when it collapsed in the 2011 earthquake, is back in Christchurch for the third anniversary. Mayumi, centre, with her homestay parents, David and Junko Bolam-Smith.

Mayumi Asakawa ate her packed lunch in the CTV building every day for three months.

But on February 22, 2011, she left the doomed building and headed to Japanese restaurant Osaka for lunch with some former King's Education students.

She was the sole survivor of her class.

"I want my friends to know that I will never forget them."

Speaking publicly for the first time since the earthquake, Asakawa, 36, said she refused to leave Christchurch after the quake despite being given the option to continue studying English in Queenstown.

Instead she kept herself busy "cleaning floors and picking things up" at her homestay parents' damaged Mount Pleasant home.


Her "Kiwi family" David and Junko Bolam-Smith told The Press that in the days that followed, it was not that they helped their Japanese student.

"She helped us," David Bolam-Smith said. "It was a kind of therapy for her, I think."

The February 2011 earthquake claimed 28 Japanese students - 12 of whom were from Toyama School - and some of Asakawa's classmates were only identified by their DNA.

She returned home in April 2011 to be confronted with the aftermath of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Asakawa said time and talking about what happened on that day had helped her heal.

"I used to think about what happened [in Christchurch] every day . . . but now I don't any more . . . just most days," she said.

Feeling an earthquake in Japan would bring back "bad memories" and some days were harder than others, she said.

Asakawa returned to Christchurch for the first anniversary and sounded the peace bell at the Civic Memorial Service in Hagley Park. She returned again last week to attend the memorial service on Saturday and lay flowers at the CTV site.

She also met representatives from Toyama School, including family members of those who died.

Asakawa described being back in Christchurch as "confusing".

She remembers how she felt when she saw the CTV building for the first time after the earthquake.

"The first time I came back, I prayed for my teachers and my friends . . . and this time I prayed for myself," she said.

Asakawa said she still loved Christchurch and hoped to continue coming back.

"When I came back [in 2012] I just had to look in from the fence outside but this time I can see everything."

The Press