KAMAISHI, Japan — Amid the grief of finding her mother’s body at a makeshift morgue in this tsunami-ravaged city last March, Fumie Arai took comfort in a small but surprising discovery. Unlike the rest of the muddied body, her mother’s face had been carefully wiped clean.

Mrs. Arai did not know at the time, but the act was the work of a retired undertaker well-versed in the ancient Buddhist rituals of preparing the dead for cremation and burial. The undertaker, Atsushi Chiba, a father of five who cared for almost 1,000 bodies in Kamaishi, has now become an unlikely hero in a community trying to heal its wounds a year after the massive earthquake and tsunami that ravaged much of Japan’s northeastern coast a year ago Sunday.

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