HIROSHIMA, Japan - One of the elderly victims of last month's landslide in Asa-Minami Ward, Hiroshima, is being mourned in Cambodia, where he was a decadelong contributor to the construction and operation of schools.
The life of Kenji Okamura, who was 89 at the time of the disaster, was marked by many hardships, including the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima when he was 20 years old. Okamura's home was only two kilometers away from where the bomb landed. Though he escaped serious injuries, a huge typhoon in September that year completely destroyed the shack he had built to replace his home.
After World War II, Okamura worked for a TV station. At 26, he was baptized and became a Christian, spending his later years doing helpful deeds for others in need. "His kind, peaceful character may have fit the teachings of Christianity," said his brother Michinobu, 79.
Members of the ward's Gion Catholic Church, which Okamura used to attend, proposed supporting Cambodia in 2001, and Okamura organised an association called "Friends of Battambang," named after the eastern Cambodian city.
He and his wife donated money every time one of their time deposits reached maturity, ultimately contributing to the construction and operation of 10 schools in Cambodia.
The couple said they wanted the money to be used for disadvantaged children because they did not have children of their own. Their advanced age did not permit them to visit Cambodia, but they seemed delighted when they heard that "Okamura schools" had more than 1,000 students.
Okamura died in the early morning of Aug. 20 when the landslide engulfed the first floor of his house.
The Gion Catholic Church informed a bishop and others in Cambodia of his passing, and received many messages of condolence, including such statements as, "He was full of compassion." Masses were held at three different locations in Cambodia.
His brother only learned of Okamura's contributions to Cambodian schools after his death. "It's just like my brother, who was a quiet man of action who never trumpeted his good deeds to others," he said. "I wish I could hear more stories from him."
Relatives and members of the church who knew Okamura attended a Mass and a ceremony to place his ashes in a tomb in the ward. His niece Yuri Mori, 65, said the way he lived, which brought him the love of many people, is etched in her heart.
Okamura's longtime priest Father Luis Cangas, 88, said, "I'm sure he will continue to watch over us."