Image: Children's Day event in Japan
Junji Kurokawa  /  AP
Children watch their hero "Sea Jetter Kaito" in action at a Children's Day event in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Thursday.
updated 5/5/2011 5:01:41 PM ET 2011-05-05T21:01:41

The battle between the buggy-eyed blue superhero and the evil sea monster and his ninja henchmen was a brief but refreshing return to normalcy for children in this Japanese coastal city.

Nearly two months after their lives were roiled by a massive tsunami, the boys and girls of Ishinomaki — many who still live in shelters or half-ruined homes surrounded by debris — were treated to the stage show as part of Children's Day celebrations.

"It's been a long time since the kids were this excited," said Yukiko Takeyama, who brought her two boys, aged 4 and 6, to Thursday's event at the town's famous cartoon museum.

Takeyama's family lives on the second story of their house because the ground floor was destroyed. She spends most of her time trying to clean up and comfort her boys, who still cry and run to be hugged when aftershocks rumble each day.

The show was hosted by the Mangattan Museum, built in honor of Shotaro Ishinomori, one of Japan's most well-known "manga" cartoon authors. It has sat dark, without power or water, since the tsunami hit, but the distinctive spacecraft-shaped building still stands out from the wreckage in the middle of the city.

"This is a symbolic place for people here," said 40-year-old Kyoto Sugawara, who volunteered to run a small generator-powered movie theater inside for the special day.

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Outside the building, giant streamers shaped like carp, a spring tradition in Japan, flapped from ropes tied to the roof. The museum's main entrance had been cleared of debris, but off to the side a grounded yacht listed next to a ruined church, the ground covered in mud-caked debris and felled trees.

Families waited in line for hours to get inside, fed by volunteers who cooked fried noodles and chicken on skewers.

'I got candy'
Inside, the museum was cold and dim but the air was filled with the smell of fresh caramel popcorn and the shouts of children, many with their faces painted. The youngsters played with donate gifts such as stuffed animals, plastic action figures and hula hoops.

"I got candy!" shouted 4-year-old Mio Atsuta. "It was great!"

Her mother, Motoko, said she was grateful for the donations, but sighed and added that Mio had been too loud for the local shelter, so they had to move back to their ruined home.

Other volunteers included science professors who set up a booth to make small blinking lamps, and professional soccer players from nearby Sendai who cleared a patch of dirt in the debris for a pitch and faced off against local youths.

"The field is a bit small, but this is so much fun," said 11-year-old Ren Yamauchi, ignoring a crumpled car and broken jungle gym next to him.

Tsunami debris: Mountain of a challenge for Japan

The one-day event took the place of what is usually a weeklong festival for Golden Week, a string of national holidays during which many families travel in Japan. Most of the normal festivities along the northeast coast have been canceled in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, which left about 26,000 dead and missing and 130,000 in evacuation centers.

"Normally we would have a lot of tourists from far away, but this is more for people nearby," said museum director Hitoshi Kimura. "Everyone is just doing what they can."

For Sea Jetter Kaito, the blue superhero, that included striking a victorious battle pose after vanquishing his enemies — and putting a smile on the children's faces.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: In Japan, refugees still living out of shelters, cars

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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