Grief, Anger Consume Father of Girl Who Died on School Bus

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A photo of China Kawamoto is displayed with some strawberries, a food she loved, at her home in Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture, on April 17.

SHIZUOKA — “I lost the central person in my life, someone more precious than my own life, and I’m still overwhelmed by sadness.”

The father of 3-year-old China Kawamoto has been racked with grief since his daughter died of heatstroke after being left alone in a school bus for hours in September.

“I don’t feel any happiness, any joy at all,” the bereaved father, 38, told The Yomiuri Shimbun in a recent interview.

His world was upended on the afternoon of Sept. 5. After being contacted by his wife, he rushed to a hospital where China’s small body lay on a bed in a treatment room. China’s hair, which her mother had braided that morning, was soaked with sweat. An ECG machine showed electrical activity in China’s heart, but the doctor said she would go into cardiac arrest if the medical personnel stopped performing chest compressions. “If we keep doing this any longer, we’ll damage her internal organs,” the doctor said. “May we stop?”

Her father could not bring himself to answer.

China had been left in the bus for about five hours after it arrived that morning at Kawasaki Yochien, a certified educational childcare facility in Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture. A test conducted by Shizuoka prefectural police found that the temperature inside the bus would have topped 45 C while China was inside.

Did no one check inside the bus after the children were let off? Why did the childcare center not contact China’s parents, even though she had not turned up that morning? Tatsuyoshi Masuda, then chairman of the facility and the driver of the bus that day, and China’s homeroom teacher have been referred to prosecutors on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death. But the string of excuses they have put forth — “I was busy setting things up for students to get measured” and “I was in a hurry because I had things to do” — have touched off another feeling in China’s father: anger.

He has met several times with Masuda, 73, and other people connected to the childcare facility, but he did not feel they were being sincere.

“What if she hadn’t attended that facility? What if we hadn’t made her go on the bus? Those thoughts consume me,” the father said. “Why must the victims feel such regret?”

China had started riding the bus in April 2022 because her mother was pregnant with a second child. On the night before the incident, China’s father asked her if she enjoyed going on the bus. “Yep, it’s fun,” she replied. China liked looking through the window at the scenery outside. After her baby sister was born, China showered her with affection, and behaved like any good big sister would.

China’s dream was to “become a princess.” She loved the princesses in Disney movies, and had longed to wear a bright purple dress. The night before she died, China’s father read her a picture book about a princess while she was in bed. They both drifted off to sleep, but they were awoken by the sound of a notification on his mobile phone.

“Dad, were you still awake?” China asked him. “Sorry, sorry,” the father replied, and they both then fell back to sleep. This was his final conversation with his daughter.

He has launched a Twitter account to share information about the case. “I want to tell people things that only a bereaved family understands,” he said. The Twitter handle — @kishindounyo — was inspired by China’s posthumous Buddhist name, which consists of the kanji characters for “princess,” “heart” and “young girl.” The account is used for posting information, including about his exchanges with the childcare facility.