A 16-year-old girl fled to her school's roof as a tsunami approached. Across town, her mother was swept away.

The teenager watched the ocean swirl around the building and snow began to fall.

Miyu Sato is one of 30 Japanese students who have come to New Zealand for three weeks for a "time out", say her sponsors.

But Miyu said the invitation to fly across the ocean felt as though it had come from her dead mother.


She had never taken up her mother's invitations to travel.

When she spoke to the Herald yesterday, at the band rotunda at the Auckland Zoo, Miyu had only a few words about her experiences in New Zealand. "It's fun," she said about the zoo. "New Zealand is beautiful."

Her words about the earthquake were also brief but succinct.

"The earthquake came, we went to the roof, the tsunami came, we were there for an hour, snow began to fall, we went downstairs ..."

It was the holidays, and only seven students from her class were at the school. Within two days, the others were picked up by their parents.

She was left alone, and a teacher took her home.

"When I found out my mum died, everyone was crying, but I don't know. I didn't understand her death. I still don't understand, but I'm going to live."

Five months later, in the heat of the northern summer, her mother's room still looks like winter to her.

Miyu's 6-year-old sister seems as if she doesn't even remember, but her 12-year-old sister cries.

"My mum was a hairdresser. She had dreams. She lived with dreams, while I just lived. So she always said, how about we do this or that?

"Let's go overseas. But I said I didn't like planes, and I didn't go. Now that she's dead, when a friend said [there was an opportunity] to travel it felt like my mum was telling me to go."

All 30 students brought here by Time Out in NZ have lost their home or a parent. The group has spent a few days in Rotorua and will spend the next three weeks in Auckland.

After the first couple of days, Miyu said, she no longer missed home - "I don't really want to go back," she said.

She worried before arriving about her inability to speak English, but she found she loved it here.