Japanese father dies sheltering daughter from blizzard

TOKYO (AFP) - A father froze to death while sheltering his nine-year-old daughter from severe weekend blizzards that swept northern Japan, two years after her mother died, reports said on Monday.

Mr Mikio Okada died as he tried to protect his only child Natsune against winds of up to 109km per hour, as temperatures plunged to minus 6 deg C.

Mr Okada was one of at least nine people killed in a spate of snow-related incidents as blizzards swept across Hokkaido island, police said on Monday.

His body was uncovered by rescuers looking for the pair after relatives raised the alarm. Natsune was wearing her father's jacket and was wrapped in his arms, newspapers and broadcasters said.

The pair had last been heard at 4pm local time on Saturday, after Mr Okada, a fisherman, picked his daughter up from a school where she was being looked after while he was at work.

He called his relatives to say his truck had become stranded in the snow, which was several metres deep in places. He told them he and Natsune would walk the remaining kilometre, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

The two were found just 300m from the truck at 7am on Sunday.

Mr Okada was hunched over his daughter, cradling her in his arms and apparently using his body and a warehouse wall to provide shelter, the Yomiuri said.

He had taken his jacket off to give to the child, a broadcaster reported.

The young girl was taken to hospital where she was found to have no serious injuries. Her father was officially pronounced dead by doctors at the same institution near their home at Yubetsu on Hokkaido.

The Yomiuri said Natsune's mother had died two years earlier from an unspecified illness.

The newspaper quoted neighbours as saying that Mr Okada had been a doting father who would often delay the start of his working day to enjoy breakfast with his daughter.

His death came as families all over Japan celebrated Girls' Day, a festival in which they gather at home and decorate houses with dolls.

"He reserved a cake for his only daughter and was looking forward to celebrating Dolls' Festival together," a neighbour told the Yomiuri.