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Tsunami survivors: As time goes on, the fragility of life remains

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Fumie Sato, 63, and her sister Hisae, 65, sit in front of a shrine to their younger sister, Yukie in Fumie's house in Minamisanriku, Japan on Feb 4, 2012.

Kuni Takahashi

Fumie Sato, 62, stands on remains the house where her mother and sister lived in MInamisanriku, Japan on March 31, 2011 after a massive earthquake and tsunami swept the house away.

Kuni Takahashi reports:

Fumie Sato, 63, and her sister Hisae, 65, still mourn their younger sister, Yukie who was killed when the tsunami swept over the Japanese coastal town of Minanisanriku on March 11, 2011, as she was trying to save her mother-in-law, who also died.

“I can’t stop blaming myself for not going with her when Yukie went down the hill to help her mother-in-law," Fumie Sato said. "My regret will never disappear. I just want to say that I am sorry when I see her in heaven.”

“I realized that there isn’t always a tomorrow. A few hours or even a few minutes from now, we could suddenly be gone. So I think we should live better but it’s hard…especially for the ones left behind in sorrow.”

The Satos found Yukie’s body five days after the tsunami virtually erased Minamisanriku, population 17,666, from the map, leaving 565 townspeople dead and 310 missing (as of Feb. 22). Fumie's house was spared because it was located on a hill, but both of her sisters’ homes were washed away.

“Yukie died in March in the snow, then spring came, then the summer,' she said. "Now it’s winter again. All buildings in town are gone and my family has changed but the seasons turn as usual as if nothing happened.”

Her older sister Hisae added, “When I saw the rice crop turned yellow last fall, I realized that the time has passed. Until then, it was always March 11th inside of me.”

Kuni Takahashi, a photojournalist based in Mumbai, returned to his native Japan in 2011 shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. He recently revisited some of the people he met there— as well as some of the people that msnbc.com profiled in its After the Wave series -- to find out how they were doing nearly a year after the devastating natural disaster.

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Photos of Yukie Sato at her sister's house in Minamisanriku, Japan on Feb 4, 2012. Yukie died after the tsunami struck the town on March 11, 2011 while she was trying to save her mother-in-law, who also died.

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

A mountain of debris topped with snow in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on Feb 26, 2012.