"We were deeply impressed with the friendliness of the Chinese people," said a Japanese rescue worker while talking about their rescue operations in China's quake-hit Sichuan Province a year ago as the first anniversary of the May 12 earthquake draws near.
"Despite rumors that Sichuan people, and Chongqing people in particular, harbored strong anti-Japanese sentiments, we were greeted with warmth and friendliness when we arrived in China's quake-hit areas," said Ichiro Shimada, chief of the Fire Rescue Task Forces, Tokyo Fire Department, in an interview with Xinhua Thursday.
Shimada headed a group under the Japanese rescue and relief team, which arrived in China as the first foreign rescue team on May 16, four days after the calamity befall China's southwestern mountainous areas.
"With concerted efforts and support from local rescue workers and interpreters, our work went on very smoothly," said Shimada, adding that he was greatly touched that local authorities, short of provisions themselves, sent ready-made food to the Japanese rescuers and girl students from local middle schools even presented them with chocolate to show their gratitude.
"Conditions permitting, I will go to Sichuan again to meet the undaunted people and give them encouragement and boost their morale," he said.
On the scene depicted in a press photo that the Japanese rescue and relief workers stood in silent tribute to the corpse of a quake victim, Shimada said that every time they dug out one, they would pay silent tribute to the deceased.
"We worked with firm determination to try our utmost to rescue any survivors, but regrettably, we failed to pick up any," he said.
"With deep regret, we were in soulful mourning for the victims of the disaster and prayed that they rest in peace," said Shimada.
"What I regret most is that our mission ended with no survivors rescued with our hands," he said.
"And I could not calm down in the following months back home," said Shimada, adding that "a single reading of reports on the May 12 earthquake would make me feel frustrated and deeply regretted."
Shimada said during the past year he was always in deep meditation on more and better solutions to rescue more lives from terrible catastrophes.
The death toll from China's May 12 earthquake last year in Sichuan Province is 68,712, according to the authorities with the civil affairs department of the provincial government.