SENDAI -- Neighbors of a family living in a quiet residential area in Taihaku Ward in this capital of the northeastern prefecture of Miyagi heard explosions and a cry for help from a house after it caught fire at dawn on Oct. 18. Six bodies were later found in the charred structure.
People concerned about the safety of the residents of the house gathered around the site at the time of the fire. The house was home to labor activist Yoshio Honma and his family, including his young grandchildren.
"My daughter woke me up at the middle of the night and we went outside. I heard loud bangs from Honma's house in flames. My daughter heard someone scream 'help' from inside the house," said a 57-year-old woman living near Honma's house as she recalled the scene with a look of shock.
Every morning the woman saw Honma's wife on a pedestrian crossing along with one of her grandchildren as she escorted the boy to elementary school. As the fire took over the house, the neighbor became worried about the polite boy who would greet her with a smile every time they met.
Honma's other grandchild was attending a day care center. A neighboring 38-year-old woman who also has two children aged 2 and 4 said, "The sounds of sirens woke me up. When I took a look at Honma's house, I heard explosions that accompanied the fire."
Honma was the chairman of the "All NTT Workers Union of Japan" Miyagi branch's retiree section. Executive officer of the union Yoichi Hoshi, 70, rushed to the site when he heard the news.
"I worked with Honma for about five years. He engaged in labor union activities for many years, and was greatly trusted at the workplace," said Hoshi. "I saw him on Oct. 16 and had a discussion about the future activities of the section. I never imagined this would happen."
The chairman also worked as an adviser at a supporters' association for Akiko Okamoto of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Lower House member Okamoto also rushed to Honma's house and stared on with an anxious look. "Honma was a great leader, and people around him strongly believed in him. His wife also had a gentle manner," she said.
(Japanese original by Atsuko Motohashi, Kaho Hayakawa, and Issei Takizawa, Sendai Bureau)