On Sept. 5, 1945, weeks after World War II had ended, an unexploded bomb went off on the coast of the Otani district in Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture, killing seven children.
This tragic incident, occurring in a small village in the chaotic days just after the war ended, was left out of many records and remained largely untold.
Now almost seven decades have passed since the end of the war, and aging witnesses and relatives of the victims are afraid there will be no one left to remember when they pass away.
The accident occurred on the west side of the Chita Peninsula. Around 20 children were playing that day on the sandy beach overlooking Ise Bay. The war had just ended, and the children were free to play as they no longer needed to fear for air-raid sirens.
They found a metal cylinder about 20 cm in diameter. It bore English letters, so it’s assumed it was a bomb dropped by a U.S. plane.
Without knowing what it was, the children started hitting it with sticks and it suddenly exploded, killing seven boys aged between 6 and 14.
Toshiaki Morita, now 80, was one of the children who witnessed the explosion. Right after the ear-shattering blast, his body was thrown back almost 5 meters, he figures. With his ears still ringing, Morita managed to stand up, only to witness a horrifying scene.
One of his playmates lay gasping for breath with his stomach gaping wide open and his intestines strewn out, while another was running toward the sea with his body on fire.
The water’s edge turned red with blood. Cries of “It hurts! It hurts!” rang out. The sounds of children crying and screaming in pain drowned out the sound of the waves.
“It was truly tragic,” Morita said.
Mitsuhiro Morita, 73, who was only 5 at the time, lost his second-oldest brother, Seikichi, who was nine years older. After the bomb went off, the younger Morita could not believe that his brother, who had been cheerfully playing just a moment before, was now on the ground with a severe stomach wound, crying out for water.
Morita and other kids pulled down the door of a nearby building and used it as a stretcher to carry his brother to a local clinic, but he died soon after.
From that day forward, Morita’s father remained bitter over the family’s misfortune in having an unexploded bomb turn up near their house.
“My eldest brother had just retuned safely from his military post,” Morita explained. With the war over, their father thought the family could finally live together in peace. The bomb took away that hope forever.
The Otani neighborhood is a small district with only a few hundred households, so everyone was acquainted with at least one of the victims or survivors. Eventually, it became taboo to even mention the tragedy.
Sueo Kishida, 70, had a brother who suffered a serious arm injury in the explosion. He passed away about five years ago.
“I’m sure that my brother knew who actually hit the bomb, but he never told me about it and took that secret to his grave,” Kishida said.
The rest of the community continued on into the postwar era, with the memory of the explosion lingering in the back of some people’s minds.
The site today is a playground for children. Nothing remains to commemorate the tragedy. For a while locals held memorial services there, but that eventually stopped. Most of the witnesses have now passed away.
“Most of the younger generation don’t even know this had ever happened, but I want this history to be remembered,” Mitsuhiro Morita said.
Hirokazu Takeuchi, 72, an assistant director for the nonprofit group Peace Aichi, said even though he lives in Tokoname, he didn’t know about the blast.
Tekeuchi suspects U.S. planes would jettison unused bombs in Ise Bay to lighten their load after attacking major cities like Nagoya.
“This important part of history should be passed down to future generations, but perhaps it was not recorded properly in the chaos after the war,” he said. “I want this tragedy to be remembered in some way, even if it is only with a stone monument.”
This section features topics and issues in the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug. 11.