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“I was surprised to find out that the remnants of the transportation unit to which my uncle was assigned when the atomic bombing occurred still existed on such a scale,” said Masakatsu Takeyari, 76, as he overlooked the excavation site where it was discovered from behind a fence during a visit to Hiroshima’s Central Park in late June.

The location marks the planned construction site for a new soccer stadium and is where barracks and other remnants of the Japanese Imperial Army’s Chugoku District Transportation Soldier Recruitment unit (or Shichotai in Japanese) were discovered.

Shunji Okada, Takeyari’s uncle, was at the Shichotai facility when the atomic bomb was dropped and died as a result of the blast 76 years ago. Takeyari, a resident of Hiroshima’s Minami Ward, was born in January 1945, and thus has no memory of his uncle. However, his relative has been on his mind since he was a child because his father, Shizuo, who died in 2001 at the age of 83, was close to his brother-in-law and often praised Okada as “a good man.”

“I wanted my uncle to be remembered among later generations through a book I wrote that tells how he lived his short life,” Takeyari said. “I followed his footsteps to find things even his family wasn’t aware of.”

When in his late thirties, Mr. Takeyari started in his spare time compiling information on his uncle by talking to his former classmates. He completed the book over the course of more than a decade as he was also working at that time.

The book, titled “Hangon no Fu ― Oji Okada Shunji no Shogai” (“Ode to the Soul of the Departed ― My Uncle Shunji Okada’s Life”), was published in 1995. When he read a June 15 article from the Chugoku Shimbun about the unearthed remnants of the Shichotai unit, he sent a copy of the book to the reporter.

Okada was born in 1923 and was the eldest son in a family that had a wholesale business selling coal and alcohol in Tamano City, Okayama Prefecture. He attended the Second Okayama Prefectural Junior High School under the prewar education system, where he played on the school’s soccer team. He used to kick a stone as if it were a ball while making his way to school. Okada honed his soccer skills even further by playing for a nearby shipyard’s team on nonschool days. His school team won the prefectural soccer tournament several times.

Shunji Okada (back row, second from right) participates in a school soccer club practice as a former team member during the summer after he graduated from the Okayama second middle school in March 1942. | COURTESY OF MASAKATSU TAKEYARI
Shunji Okada (back row, second from right) participates in a school soccer club practice as a former team member during the summer after he graduated from the Okayama second middle school in March 1942. | COURTESY OF MASAKATSU TAKEYARI

He also was passionate about film and literature. He and Shizuo, who was five years older, were kindred spirits on both subjects and would often go see movies together. His favorite director was Yasujiro Ozu. After he graduated from school in 1942, he spent one year preparing for entrance exams, then went on to attend a university in Tokyo. He had dreams of becoming a film scriptwriter.

However, he received his military draft papers sometime in December 1943. Before he left his family home the following January, he would often practice his soccer skills, both dribbling and shooting, by himself on the school’s grounds.

“It might have been his way of saying goodbye to soccer,” Takeyari said. Okada was assigned to the Shichotai unit after finishing basic training.

On Aug. 6, 1945, Okada was severely burned on his face and hands in the atomic bombing. He was transported to an army hospital located at the Hesaka National School. Notified of his whereabouts, his mother, Sakai, rushed to the hospital in the morning on Aug. 14. But he had already passed away, having died before dawn on that same day.

His father, Miyoji, was so full of sorrow over his son’s death that he did not bury Okada’s ashes for three years, keeping them close at hand instead.

Among Okada’s belongings was a letter he had sent to his family expressing his joy over the pending birth of Takeyari. “I am as pleased as if it were my own son that a healthy little baby will soon join the family.”

If it had been a time of peace, Takayari believes his family-minded uncle who loved sports and art would have lived a vibrant life. He strongly regrets that the war broke out and that the atomic bomb was dropped.

Takeyari sincerely hopes that even part of the unearthed remnants of the Shichotai unit will be preserved because, for him, it serves as a witness to the fact that his uncle, who loved playing soccer in his school days, existed in this world.

“My uncle would be happy if people could feel the preciousness of peace from both the artifacts of war and the atomic bombing, as well as from sports,” Takeyari said.

The original article was published by Chugoku Shimbun on July 13.

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