A private World War II air raid shelter exquisitely lined with colorful tiles has recently been opened to the public in Handa, Aichi Prefecture.
The work of a young tile tradesman facing military conscription, the room is attracting acclaim from historians as unique in cultural value.
Built in the basement of a storehouse owned by house renovator Yoshinoya, it can only be accessed via a special door.
At 2 meters by 3 meters in area and 2 meters high, the shelter can squeeze in 10 adults. The interior is covered with 2-cm square tiles in light pink, green and white.
The shelter was built in 1944 by Yasunori Kato, father of the current Yoshinoya president, 59-year-old Hiroyasu Kato.
Back then, the elder Kato, who died three years ago at 85, sold tiled bathtubs and fireproof cement tubs. He was in his late teens when he received his draft notice in 1944. That’s when he started building the shelter, completing it shortly before his departure.
“He was very precise with his work. Maybe it was because he knew he could die in the war, so he used up all the materials in the store to build something that would remind people of his existence,” said his son.
The war ended a year later, and Kato was still stationed in Japan at the time. He married and had four children. The shelter was eventually converted into a storeroom.
Kato recalled his dad would threaten to put them in the shelter when they acted up.
“I didn’t think there was anything special about it,” he said.
The shelter gained attention last summer when his son showed it to students from Nihon Fukushi University in Mihama, Aichi Prefecture, who stopped by the store during a tour of the neighborhood.
According to Keisuke Shimizu, 67, an ex-faculty member who has researched historic war sites in Aichi, most private residences simply made air raid shelters by digging holes in the ground. Wealthier families usually strengthened them with cement.
“I have seen shelters from all over the country, but I’ve never seen one laid with tiles. It’s probably extremely rare in Japan,” he said.
“The design is modern, almost like a work of art. I think it has a strong cultural value,” Shimizu added. “My father would be pleased to hear his work has value. I will make sure it’s properly maintained from now on,” Kato said.
To visit the shelter, contact Yoshinoya at 0569 (23) 2323.
This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 5.
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