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Japan Remembers Victims of Natural Disasters

SOMA, JAPAN -- Six months from Japan's massive earthquake in March and only 24 miles from the radiation leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, hundreds of lanterns were released on Saturday to mark the half-year anniversary.

The city of Soma in Fukushima prefecture was hard hit by the tsunami with 459 people either dead or missing.

Located north of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, the city has also had to deal with the spectre of radiation.

Hoping to help put a period on one era and start a new, fashion designer and event organizer Yamamoto Kansai helped put together the "Tentou" or "Sky lantern" event.

The event itself saw nearly 200 residents of Soma city and surrounding areas affected by the nuclear crisis, launch nearly 1,000 paper lanterns in remembrance of those lost.

For those participating, the event helped provide hope that things would indeed improve.

"I hope that it can become (a place) where we can feel safe as everyone is very anxious about the future. But I think that this sort of event is a good first step towards recovery and rebuilding," said Soma resident Yasu Araki, who came to the event with his family.

As the lanterns float into the sky before disappearing, some smaller participants thought the lanterns were direct messages to those killed by the tsunami waves.

"I hope that the lanterns went all the way to heaven," said 6-year-old Hana Koseki.

Similar paper lantern events were also held in the Ukraine, home to the world's other major nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, and Indonesia, which suffered its own tsunami in 2004.

A group of Indonesian nurses studying to work in Japan also took part in the event, and gave their voices to those hoping for Japan's recovery.

"I saw Japan's tsunami for the first time when I came here, and it was incredible. There were boats everywhere and debris in the water. It was quite sad to see. But I just want to say all the best to Japan!" said 30-year-old Francisca from Indonesia who said she did not have a last name.

The event also saw riders in traditional Japanese armour involved as Soma city is normally the site of a festival that involves 600 mounted samurai recreating a battle from more than 1,000 years ago.

As the city looks to clean up after the tsunami swept much of its port, the mayor led a final rallying call that, radiation or not, Soma city won't be counted out.


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