- - Monday, June 27, 2011

OTSUCHI, Japan — Children and adults all bow when they pass Takaaki Goto, even though he sleeps on a crowded gym floor.

He was their geography teacher at Otsuchi’s only junior high school, where he taught for 40 years. He also coached the provincial soccer team. One student to emerge from Iwate prefecture, Mitsuo Ogasawara, played for Japan in the World Cup and was Japan’s soccer player of the year in 2009.

With such a resume, many survivors want Mr. Goto, a town council member, to be the next mayor to replace Koki Kato, who died along with 30 other officials when a tsunami swept over the Town Hall on March 11.

But Mr. Goto, 74, doesn’t want the job.

“I’m too old,” he said. “If this town has any chance of surviving, we must find younger leaders.”

Many of Otsuchi’s most energetic people, between the ages of 30 and 60, were lost in the 50-foot-high tsunami and fire that gutted almost every building in town.

“They were the brightest young people in town, and now they are gone,” Mr. Goto said of his former students.

Hoping to call back many of his top students who pursued careers elsewhere in Japan, Mr. Goto is trying to persuade Naoko Muramatsu, 47, to run for election to join him on the City Council.

A poet with a master’s degree in agriculture, she moved away from Otsuchi after junior high school and now lives in the provincial capital of Morioka, a three-hour drive from Otsuchi, which has no train service.

Now that her son has left home to begin university studies in Sendai, Mrs. Muramatsu said she is considering the idea.

“I would like to help Otsuchi if I can,” she said. “There’s not enough younger people or educated people there.”

An NHK-TV survey in June of 489 people in evacuation shelters across the disaster zone in northeastern Japan found that more than a third of respondents younger than 30 planned to live elsewhere in the country.

Many surviving youths left their hometowns immediately after the tsunami to look for work in more prosperous areas than the northeast.

Mrs. Muramatsu said most of her junior high school classmates left Otsuchi several years ago to study or work in Morioka, Sendai or Tokyo.

With careers and families, they cannot easily give up their lives to move back to a devastated town reeking of charred debris.

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