Interview with Yoji Oshimo, President of Fukuya Co., Ltd.: Significance of carrying out a business in a building that survived the atomic bombing

Hiroshima treasure must be preserved

by Miho Kuwajima, Staff Writer

Yoji Oshimo, 51, President of Fukuya Co., Ltd., who operates a chain of department stores in Hiroshima, gave an interview to the Chugoku Shimbun. He shared his ideas and plans about the preservation and utilization of its main store in Hatchobori, which survived the atomic bombing.

How do you feel about owning a building that survived the atomic bombing?
The heat rays from the atomic bomb caused the inside of the building to become ablaze in an instant, and many people died in this building. I feel it’s of significant importance to continue to operate this department store as a result. Also, while the Atomic Bomb Dome conveys the immediate horrors of the bombing, as if time had stopped, time never stops at the main store of Fukuya, and that exemplifies the strength of Hiroshima and its people. In the end, the atomic bomb never caused them to be defeated.

I understand this is the first time you have given an interview about this A-bombed building.
In the past, there were many remains throughout the city that provided example of damage caused by the atomic bomb, so I did not have to speak particularly about this building. I’m also aware of the role a department store in people’s lives as a place to come and enjoy shopping. But times have changed. Buildings that survived the atomic bombing have been disappearing one by one in the center of the city. So I came to think I should highlight that this department store made it through the atomic bombing and is still loved today by locals.

In October, you will begin displaying pieces of an A-bombed exterior wall and photos of this department store from before the war.
I want to showcase this department store’s existence prior to the atomic bombing, rather than focus too much on its exposure to the bomb. Before the atomic bombing, Hatchobori had been a bustling area with movie theaters and shops frequented by many people every day. I hope this building will help visitors see that people continued to live their lives as before, despite the bombing. There is a plan to show the pre-bombed cityscape of the area later transformed into Peace Memorial Park. I think this idea is relevant here in the Hatchobori area, too.

You are a second-generation survivor of the atomic bombing. What do you tell your employees about the atomic bombing and the Fukuya department store?
During the annual memorial services on August 6th, I remind them 31 of the 68 employees were killed, and talk about what the department store was like on that day. It’s regrettable that many of those who have firsthand knowledge of the bombing are gone now, and that we can only turn to written history of the company at this point. We are the last generation that can listen to the experiences of the war, and of the atomic bombing directly from those who experienced them. If we remain silent, we cannot hand down their experiences to the next generation. So, I tell my three children, “Listen to the A-bomb experience of your grandfather (Ryusuke Oshimo, Yoji’s father and chairman of the board of directors at Fukuya).”

I guess preserving a building that survived the atomic bombing is no easy task, correct?
Indeed. Our company aims to keep the building for 100 years beyond the atomic bombing (2045), and we have been doing seismic reinforcement, making walls thicker, or converting windows into walled material when we renovate sales floors. The city has given a subsidy of 80 million yen, and altogether we will spend a total of more than 1 billion yen. The maintenance costs are high, but this building is not just an asset for Fukuya, rather, it’s a treasure for Hiroshima. So it must be preserved for as long as possible.

For example, some people have told me they enjoyed playing in the amusement park that existed on the rooftop at the time, or of having a meal in a big restaurant in the period after the bombing when Hiroshima was rebuilding. We hope to change this department store in accordance with the times, to orchestrate a warm sense in the daily lives of people, and to inspire public admiration.

Yoji Oshimo
Born in the Asamimani Ward of Hiroshima, Mr. Oshimo graduated from the Graduate School of Business Administration at Keio University before joining Fukuya Co., Ltd. in 1998. After serving as head of the food department for the Fukuya store located in front of Hiroshima Station, he became a director of the company in 2000. He took his present post in May 2008. Mr. Oshimo also serves as permanent council member at the Hiroshima Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

(Originally published on September 2, 2019)