Younger brother’s lunchbox found in the rubble the day after A-bombing

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

On the day after the atomic bombing, Koso Oi, 83, a resident of Naka Ward, Hiroshima, found his younger brother’s lunchbox in the ruins of Hiroshima First Middle School, the school they had both attended. Koso was a third-year student at the time and his brother Reiso, then 12, was a first-year student. Mr. Oi has long kept the lunchbox at his family’s Buddhist altar, explaining, “The bodies I found near the lunchbox were turned to bone so I couldn’t identify my brother. The lunchbox was our only real memento of him.” Year after year, Mr. Oi has faithfully attended the memorial ceremony held for the dead of Hiroshima First Middle School, which takes place at its successor, Kokutaiji High School.

On August 6, 1945, Mr. Oi left Hesaka, in present-day Higashi Ward, where the family had earlier evacuated, and went to work at the Toyo Kogyo factory (now Mazda Motor Corporation). He was serving as a mobilized student, ordered to make pistons for military aircraft. Reiso went off to school in Zakoba-cho, now Kokutaiji-cho, in downtown Hiroshima.

Recounting the time, Mr. Oi said, “I heard that Reiso was being naughty, saying that he didn’t want to go to school, and that he returned home to retrieve a cap he had forgotten.”

The atomic bomb even blew off the roof of the factory where Mr. Oi was working, about 5.3 kilometers from the hypocenter. By the following day, his younger brother had not returned to their house, where one of Mr. Oi’s classmates was staying after they fled the factory. That classmate, Takeshi Ito, later served as chairperson of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations. He died in 2000.

Mr. Oi’s father, Sakuo, who died in 1984, went to Ninoshima Island in search of Reiso, his second son. Koso, his older brother, ventured to Hiroshima First Middle School.

The school buildings, about 900 meters from the hypocenter, were completely destroyed and burned. When Mr. Oi dug through the ruins of the classroom for first-year students, he found an aluminum lunchbox that was inscribed with his younger brother’s name on the cover. He found a number of bones nearby. “I also saw more than ten students dead in the swimming pool,” he said.

In 1946, an association for bereaved family members of the victims of Hiroshima First Middle School was formed. His father, along with others such as Masayuki Akita, who died in 1975, supported the association body and soul. In 1948, the group raised a memorial for the dead near the school gate and, in 1966, erected a statue of the Goddess of Mercy near Peace Boulevard to comfort the souls of the mobilized students. Mr. Oi served as chair of the association for 30 years, finally stepping down from the post in 2007.

From the school, 353 students and 16 teachers lost their lives to the atomic bomb. The memorial ceremony to remember them is held on the fourth Sunday in July each year. Carrying on the sentiments of the parents of the victims, Mr. Oi said, “August 6 is a day for silent prayer. It’s not a day to loudly express emotion.” He went on, “The dead will continue to live if people continue to comfort their souls and remember them. If my younger brother and the other victims were alive today, they, too, would say that the atomic bombing was unforgivable.”

At the annual ceremony on July 28, 68 years after the atomic bombing, Mr. Oi will offer another prayer at the memorial dedicated to the students and teachers of Hiroshima First Middle School.

(Originally published on July 25, 2013)