On the afternoon of Friday, March 11th, Hideaki Akaiwa was at his job, dully trudging out the final bitter minutes of his work week in his office just outside the port city of Ishinomaki in Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture. What this guy’s day job actually is, I honestly have no idea, but based on the extremely limited information I have on the guy I can only presume that his daily nine-to-five routine probably falls somewhere between the motorcycle chase scenes from the movie Akira and John Rambo’s antics in the book version of First Blood on the ridiculousness/badassitude scale. But that’s only speculation.
The one thing we know for certain is that Akaiwa was at work on the 11th, when suddenly, right as he was in the middle of jumping over a giant Gatling-gun-armed robot while riding on a rocket-powered jetbike he’d MacGuyvered together out of vines, tree branches, and a couple thumbtacks, something terrible happened – an earthquake. And not just any earthquake – a mega fucking brain-busting insane earthquake the likes of which the island of Japan had never had the misfortune of experiencing before. The ground shook, buildings crumbled, lights smashed apart, and the entire population of the country froze in fear as fault line below Japan rumbled for a ridiculous two-plus minutes.
But, amazingly, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake wasn’t the worst thing to happen to the town Ishinomaki on that horrible day. No, that was afterwards, when the tremors from the earthquake churned up a raging tsunami that took a bustling city of 162,000 people and suddenly turned it into little more than a ten-foot-deep lake.
For reference, here’s a NASA satellite comparison of the city before and after the tsunami. Needless to say, poor Hideaki Akaiwa, concerned for his family, rushed out of his office in time to see his city completely submerged under an obscene ten feet of water that buried everything from houses to businesses. He ran to the high water mark and stared helplessly into the sprawling lake that once used to be his home.
But it gets even worse. Hideaki’s wife of twenty years was still buried inside the lake somewhere. She hadn’t gotten out. She wasn’t answering her phone. The water was still rising, the sun was setting, cars and shit were swooshing past on a river of sea water, and and rescue workers told him there was nothing that could be done – the only thing left was to sit back, wait for the military to arrive, and hope that they can get in there and rescue the survivors before it’s too late. With 10,000 citizens of Ishinomaki still missing and unaccounted for, the odds weren’t great that Hideaki would ever see his wife again.
For most of us regular folks, this is the sort of shit that would make us throw up our hands, swear loudly, and resign ourselves to a lifetime of hopeless misery.
But Hideaki Akaiwa isn’t a regular guy. He’s a fucking insane badass, and he wasn’t going to sit back and just let his wife die alone, freezing to death in a miserable water-filled tomb. He was going after her. No matter what.
How the fuck Hideaki Akaiwa got a hold of a wetsuit and a set of SCUBA gear is one of the great mysteries of the world. I’m roughly twenty hours into Fallout 3 and I’m lucky to come across a fucking vacuum cleaner in that godforsaken post-apocalyptic wasteland, yet this guy is in the middle of a real-life earth-shaking mecha-disaster and he’s coming up with oxygen tanks, waterproof suits, and rebreather systems seemingly out of thin air. I guess when you’re a truly unstoppable badass, you, by definition, don’t let anything stand in your way. You make shit happen, all the time, no matter what.
Regardless of how he came across this equipment (borrowing, stealing, buying, beating up a Yakuza SCUBA diving demolitions expert, etc.) Hideaki threw on his underwater survival gear, rushed into the goddamned tsunami, and dove beneath the rushing waves, determined to rescue his wife or die trying. I’m not exactly sure whether or not the dude even knew how to operate SCUBA equipment, but according to one version of his story he met his wife while he was surfing (which is awesome, by the way), so it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to say that he already had a little experience SCUBA diving under a more controlled situation. Of course, even if this dude didn’t know how to work the gear I’m certain that wouldn’t have stopped him either – Hideaki wasn’t going to let a pair of soul-crushing natural disasters deter him from doing awesome shit and saving his family. He dove down into the water, completely submerged in the freezing cold, pitch black rushing current on all sides, and started swimming through the underwater ruins of his former hometown.
Surrounded by incredible hazards on all sides, ranging from obscene currents capable of dislodging houses from their moorings, sharp twisted metal that could easily have punctured his oxygen line (at best) or impaled him (at worst), and with giant fucking cars careening through the water like toys, he pressed on. Past broken glass, past destroyed houses, past downed power lines arcing with electrical current, through undertow that could have dragged him out to sea never to be heard from again, he searched.
Hideaki maintained his composure and navigated his way through the submerged city, finally tracking down his old house. He quickly swam through to find his totally-freaked-out wife, alone and stranded on the upper level of their house, barely keeping her head above water. He grabbed her tight, and presumably sharing his rebreather with her, dragged her out of the wreckage to safety. She survived.
But Hideaki Akaiwa still wasn’t done yet.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what the fuck is more intense than commandeering a wet suit, face-punching a tsunami and dragging your wife of two decades out of the flooded wreckage of your home, but, no shit, it gets even better. You see, Hideaki’s mother also lived in Ishinomaki, and she was still unaccounted for. I think you all know where this is going.
First, Hideaki searched around the evacuation shelters and other areas, looking for his mom among the ragtag groups of survivors who had been lucky enough to flee to higher ground. She might have escaped, and he needed to find her. Now. He ran through the city like some post-apocalyptic action hero, desperately trying to track her down, but when a couple of days went by without any sign of her, he knew what he had to do. The water had only receded a few inches by this point, the rescue teams weren’t working quickly enough for his tastes, and Hideaki Akaiwa fucking once again took matters into his own hands – rushing back into the waterlogged city looking for his mom.
These are not ideal SCUBA diving conditions.
So, once again Hideaki navigated his way through the Atlantean city, picking his way through crumbling wreckage, splintered wood, and shredded metal to find his elderly mother. After another grueling trek, he tracked her down on the upper levels of a house – she’d been stranded there for four days, and would almost certainly have died without the timely aid of her son. He brought her to safety somehow as well, as you might expect at this point.
Now, while most people would have been content in the knowledge that their family was safe, Hideaki Akaiwa isn’t the sort of badass who’s going to hang up his flippers and quit just because he’d taken care of his own personal shit – this guy made an oath to keep going back into the wreckage on his own to find people and help them to safety. Today this 43 year-old Japanese badass rides out every single day, multiple times a day, riding around on a bicycle with his legs wrapped in plastic to keep himself dry. His only equipment – a pocketknife, a canteen, a flashlight, a change of clothes, and a badass set of aviator sunglasses – packed into a trusty trio of backpacks, he rides out in search of people needing rescue, a modern-day, real-life action hero.