When Shinichi Endo lost his three children in the 2011 tsunami that devastated his hometown in northeastern Japan, he felt all was lost.
Eight years on, Endo is still tormented by his failure to protect his children on that fateful March 11, but with fellow disaster survivors and volunteers who have helped him get through the toughest of times, the 50-year-old woodworker says he has found a renewed sense of hope and purpose in his craft.
(Shinichi Endo, center, and children attending his craft class)
"I want to breathe life anew into the rubble and pass on the memory of the disaster," said Endo, who since 2013 has been teaching young children with no or little knowledge of the tsunami, about the significance of "gareki," the Japanese word meaning rubble or debris.
In January, he held a workshop for nine children, 5 to 13, all youngsters close to the age of his children. His daughter Hana was 13 when she was killed, his son Kanta 10, and his youngest daughter Kana 8.
Some two months later, another workshop was given to 40 adult residents of various ages in his neighborhood where he and his wife Ryoko, 50, live in public housing.
"Does everyone know what gareki is?" he asked the children. When they responded that they did not, he started explaining while guiding them on how to buff a piece of wood with sandpaper and natural oil.
"It is a part of a house that was destroyed by the tsunami. Originally, it was something precious or a memory to someone, but this was washed away in an instant by the tsunami."
Endo bore witness to the magnitude-9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami in 2011. He had just finished work and was on the way home when he felt the ground shake violently.
He rushed back to check on his children. At his home in the Watanoha district, his mother and Hana were there. He went to fetch his two other children at their school and brought them safely home. But after that, Endo ventured out again to check in on other relatives who he had lost contact with.
On his way home, his truck was swamped by the tsunami and thus began a harrowing ordeal. To avoid being trapped inside, he opened the vehicle's door and managed to extricate himself. He was immediately swept away by the tumult and sheer force of the tsunami.
He clung to the roof of a single-story house as it drifted on a soup of a shattered town, eventually being pushed up against the wall of a convenience store where he was stuck, his feet pinned by debris.
He did not realize it then, but his right ankle was broken and after the tsunami subsided, he had to hobble across the nail-studded debris of people's homes, leaving his feet a bloody mess.
When he finally was able to reach his home the following day, he found his mother alive but his children missing.
Tragically, his two daughters were found dead at his home later that day and his son's body was located 10 days later by the Self-Defense Forces.
"There's nothing more painful than losing a child," he said, adding, "I let my children die. It was my fault. I shouldn't have left them at the house." His wife Ryoko was away and survived the tsunami. Talking about their children became too painful for them to endure. Consumed by guilt, he stopped working for some time.
Endo was 18 when he went to Tokyo without an idea of what he wanted to do. He was inspired by a wooded area at Showa Kinen Park in Tokyo and decided to become a woodworker. He met and married Ryoko and they started a family together in Tokyo.
When he was in his mid-30s, they decided to return to Ishinomaki and Endo established his own woodworking company "Moku You Boku," with the workspace in the neighboring city of Higashimatsushima.
His son Kanta had once told him, "I'm going to help you out with work when I get older," while his daughter Kana would draw pictures of what she wanted him to make. He plays the music made by Hana's favorite singer at his studio.
"With the children gone, I thought 'This is the end for me.' I lost my dream of a life where I would grow old with my children," he said. Even as he struggled to come to grips with his unbearable loss, he continued helping out in the local evacuation center that was his refuge on the night after the tsunami.
The turning point came when an acquaintance asked if he would make a set of bookshelves that could be dedicated to Taylor Anderson, a 24-year-old American language teacher who taught English in various schools in Ishinomaki and died in the tsunami. She also taught Endo's children.
He initially turned the job down, but around two months after the disaster, he was again asked. This time, he said yes.
The bookshelves were donated to the kindergarten, elementary and junior high schools where Anderson taught, the first in September 2011. Endo met Taylor's father Andy and was inspired by the latter's will to carry on his daughter's dream of bridging U.S.-Japan ties.
Endo also met a volunteer of Unite Together, a Shiga-based support group, who encouraged him to "turn a place that brings you pain into a place that makes you and others happy."
The container house serving as the headquarters of "Team Watahoi," was eventually built. He was then asked to work on building playground equipment there.
Watahoi is the abbreviated name of the Watanoha daycare center. The group was created by Endo and other survivors to support each other and their city's reconstruction.
Endo built playground equipment that was named "Niji no Kakehashi" ("Rainbow Bridge") in 2014. Two other jungle gyms were built -- one in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, and another in Ishinomaki for the Kokoro Smile project, a support group for children who lost their parents or are suffering trauma from the tsunami.
While Endo says the sadness of losing his children will never fade, he wants to pay forward the kindness he received from others.
"I was able to hold myself together thanks to the support of people around me. (In turn) I want to be someone who is considerate of other people's feelings."
On weekdays, Endo works at his studio, while his weekends are spent at Watahoi, participating in grief care at Kokoro Smile or tsunami rubble workshops. "It makes me happy to see children smiling while working with wood," he said.
He also feels that his own children would take joy from seeing him work on the Taylor bookshelves and the playground equipment.
In 2015, Prince William, the likely future King of the United Kingdom, met the Endos while visiting Ishinomaki. Endo remembers being deeply moved when the prince, after hearing about his volunteer work, told him he is a good father.
For Endo, it feels like his children are still connecting him to many people. Like a piece of wood that has been transformed into a table or chair, Endo is undergoing his own rebirth of sorts.
"At the end of the day, it is the people's compassion that gives me the strength to keep on going," he said.