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Hiroshima Atomic-Bombing Archives (Part 1)

Hiroshima Atomic-Bombing Archives (Part 1)

Mainichi photos taken 3 days after Hiroshima tragedy help preserve history

Three days after Hiroshima was annihilated by the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, in what became the first nuclear attack in human history, a Mainichi Shimbun reporter took pictures of the bombed areas, capturing the devastation that must be passed down to future generations as the starting point for the drive toward nuclear abolition.

    This photo taken by late Mainichi Shimbun reporter Yukio Kunihira shows the foundation of the destroyed Mainichi Shimbun Hiroshima bureau building. The structure on the left side in the background is the Fuel Hall, which is now the Rest House of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and the structure on the right side is the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, known now as the A-Bomb Dome. (Mainichi)

    Among the 40 photographs that the reporter, Yukio Kunihira, took in Hiroshima on Aug. 9, 1945, at least 17 locations have been identified with the help of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Based on the findings and other data including the company history of the Mainichi Newspapers, the Mainichi Shimbun tracked down the route that Kunihira followed that day.

    Kunihira, then a reporter with the photo department of the Mainichi Shimbun Osaka Head Office, was assigned on Aug. 7 that year to cover the aftermath of the atomic bombing alongside a reporter from the city news department. The two left Osaka Station on the morning of Aug. 8 and arrived at Hiroshima Station shortly past 10 a.m. the following day.


    Point 1: 1,400 meters from the hypocenter

    The station, still fresh from fire damage from the bombing, was located 1.9 kilometers east of the hypocenter. From there, Kunihira headed southwest along the streetcar line, and came to the western end of Kyobashi Bridge across the Kyobashi River. He apparently shot seven serial photographs from that point, capturing the city reduced to ashes and the mountains afar.


    Point 2: 1,210 meters from the hypocenter

    Relief goods are brought into the Hiroshima Higashi Police Station, where the functions of the Hiroshima Prefectural Government were temporarily relocated on Aug. 7, 1945, the day after the atomic bombing, in Hiroshima's Shimoyanagicho district (present-day Kanayamacho district in Hiroshima's Naka Ward). The building formerly housed the Shimoyanagicho branch of Geibi Bank (currently Hiroshima Bank). The area is 1,210 meters from the hypocenter of the atomic bombing. (Mainichi)
    The Aug. 11, 1945 edition of the Mainichi Shimbun (Osaka Head Office version) carries two photographs including the one capturing the Hiroshima Higashi Police Station, alongside an article on the devastation of Hiroshima. One of the headlines reads, "Hiroshima residents are fighting bravely amid this atrocity." The area is 1,210 meters from the hypocenter of the atomic bombing. (Mainichi)

    En route to the Hiroshima Higashi Police Station, where the functions of the Hiroshima Prefectural Government were temporarily relocated, Kunihira ran across Katsuro Sakata, then head of the Mainichi Shimbun Hiroshima Bureau. Sakata was unscathed as he was on his way back to Hiroshima from Kumamoto where he had evacuated his family when the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6.

    Kunihira then headed to the Mainichi Shimbun Hiroshima Bureau located along the Motoyasu River after taking the photographs of buildings including the Fukuya department store. At the Hiroshima Bureau, just 290 meters south of Ground Zero, Kunihira saw a message scribbled on a garden stone with cinders, which read, "If you need anything, please go to the temporary prefectural government office."


    Point 3: 450 meters from the hypocenter

    (2) The Harimayacho district of Hiroshima is seen (present-day Hondori district of Hiroshima's Naka Ward). From left, the Hiroshima branch of Shoko Chukin Bank, the old building of the Fukuya department store, the new building of the Fukuya department store, the Chugoku Shimbun daily newspaper and the Hiroshima branch of Obayashi Corp. One of the iron poles that were lining the Hondori shopping street is seen collapsed in the foreground. The shopping district flourished since before World War II and is now the largest entertainment quarter in the city of Hiroshima. The area is 450 meters from the hypocenter of the atomic bombing. (Mainichi)

    Point 4: 300 meters from the hypocenter

    The wreckage of a streetcar is seen near the Kamiyacho intersection, in the present-day Kamiyacho district of Hiroshima's Naka Ward. The wreckage was apparently removed from the tracks for restoration work. The tram car in the foreground is reduced to its iron carriage, while the car in the background has only its outer frames left. The area is about 300 meters from the hypocenter of the atomic bombing. (Mainichi)

    After walking down streets near the Kamiyacho intersection and Tokiwa Bridge crowded with evacuees, Kunihira traveled back to Osaka.


    Point 5: 1,550 meters from the hypocenter

    Tokiwa Bridge is seen from its western end, in the present-day Higashihakushimacho district of Hiroshima's Naka Ward. The railings of the bridge are seen toppled toward the opposite direction from the hypocenter. The area is 1.55 kilometers from Ground Zero. (Mainichi)

    Photos still sought to preserve memory of tragedy

    The nuclear bomb completely destroyed almost an entire 2-kilometer radius zone from the hypocenter. A 1971 book on the Hiroshima atomic bombing published by the Hiroshima Municipal Government describes how the city was like three days after the bombing, saying, "By around this time, the blazes had largely been extinguished, and obstacles to major transport systems had tentatively been cleared for services to resume, but much work had still been left to accommodate patients and dispose of corpses."

    Full-scale relief and restoration work began on Aug. 7, 1945, at the initiative of the Imperial Japanese Army. On Aug. 9, Hiroshima Electric Railway resumed streetcar services in part of a section in the western part of the city. The Bank of Japan Hiroshima Branch resumed services on Aug. 8 and provided temporary services for other banking institutions as well.

    According to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, major thoroughfares captured in the photographs had been mostly cleared but the streets near the hypocenter were filled with debris, hampering traffic. Passersby were neatly dressed in general, with some holding parasols over them. They are believed to be the people who rushed to Hiroshima from distant areas to search for relatives.

    Due to the residual radiation from the atomic bombing, those who entered the 2-kilometer radius zone from the hypocenter within roughly 100 hours after the bombing and later developed cancer are almost automatically recognized as having developed atomic bomb diseases.

    Kenji Shiga, director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, said, "We are looking for photographs from that time all the more because we are still not sure what exactly happened the moment the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I take it seriously that we are able to identify the locations and time those photographs were taken thanks to people who have preserved them with proper records and have passed them down." He added, "As the number of people with first-hand knowledge of the immediate aftermath of the bombing is on the decline, it's now or never to preserve their memories."

    The city of Hiroshima today is seen from a building near the eastern end of Kyobashi Bridge. Inari Ohashi Bridge lies in the left foreground, while Kyobashi Bridge is seen in the right foreground. Sakae Bridge is pictured in the right background. (Mainichi, a composite photo of nine pictures)

    Part 2 to be published in May 2017.