7 People who contributed to the development of Higashihiroshima City
People had already thought about digging a tunnel before Mr. Okita, but they had given up because Nakanotao was a solid rock mountain. Mr. Okita started this work alone.
I was about 13 years old at the time. I would come here for fun and just watch Mr. Okita but did not help him.
Mr. Okita built 2.7×3.6m hut on the left mountainside near the southern entrance and cooked there. His wife sometimes brought boxed lunches, probably when she had made delicious dishes. He used to get water from a spring located a short way downhill. I don’t know how long he worked every day because I was not there all the time, but he was a spiritual person, so he must have started work right after waking up and reading the sutra. He used to make a fire near the hut and make his own chisels. He would carry sand dug from the mountain to the land below to make paddy fields, although it is now grassland.
Mr. Okita was a very funny old man and friendly to talk to, but he rarely spoke while he was digging. He continued to dig alone for three years. He really wanted to do something useful for people.
Villagers used to come see him. There was a drought three years later, and when they saw that Mr. Okita had already dug 30 m, they decided to help him. It was narrow, so two or three people would take turns, with stonemasons digging at the front.
The stonemasons used dynamite on the hard rock, so the work advanced rapidly. Sand was carried out on a trolley.
Since people started to help, Mr. Okita also cooked for the stonemasons and dug an irrigation tunnel from the Kotayamagawa River. Mr. Okita also dug the tunnel located about 50 m uphill on his own. That mountain was not rocky like Nakanotao, so it was quite easy to dig. Water still flows through the tunnel, which is now a round pipe tunnel. It used to have the same shape as Nakanotao Tunnel, but sand used to fall from above and close off the water’s path, so I asked Saijo Cho to put pipes when I was a Mizuko representative. Water flows from autumn to spring to fill Fukado Pond.
The way to Fukado Pond above the tunnel is not used very frequently today, but it used to lead to Yoshikawa around the left side of Fukado Pond.
Inside the tunnel is much narrower than the entrance, and adults can only pass through on their belly. Some parts in the center are solid and very narrow. We still clean the tunnel once a year with about 10 people. One day, the water path was clogged so I entered from the Fukado Pond side, because the southern side had too much water to dive into. Once I removed the trees and plants, water burst forth suddenly and it was really scary.
Mr. Okita suffered a stroke in his later years. Mr. Okita’s house burned in a fire, but his family still lives in the same place. We still hold a memorial for Mr. Okita in Kashobara District around the Bon Festival. We have never forgotten him. But his story could be forgotten in time, so I am grateful that it is taught in schools.