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Hiroshima museum's famed A-bomb victim mannequins to be retired April 26

Plastic mannequins recreating a scene from after the atomic bomb blast are seen at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima's Naka Ward, on April 18, 2017. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- Mannequins in an exhibition called "Victims Hovering between Life and Death," which has left deep impressions on visitors to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum here for over 40 years, will vanish when the main building closes for renovations on April 26.

The exhibit features a mother and child with their arms extended forward, their skin sagging from burns from the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bomb blast, walking through the burning cityscape. The first version of the scene was installed in the museum in 1973, and a second version was unveiled close to the museum's entrance in 1991.

Their removal was decided in 2013. The plan was controversial, as visitors often say the mannequins make the damage suffered by the atomic bomb victims more vivid and immediate. Post-renovation, the museum plans exhibit more of the A-bomb victims' possessions and other artifacts rather than items like the reproduction figures, to focus more attention on the people whose lives were changed or ended by the bomb.

"I told my child that even worse things must have happened. It's a shame they are removing the (Victims Hovering between Life and Death) exhibit," said a woman visiting from India. A female high school student from Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, commented while looking away, "I was traumatized by how scary it was when I saw it in fourth grade. I can't look at it anymore."

The idea for the figures came to then Hiroshima Mayor Setsuo Yamada when he visited a wax figure museum in London. The museum's fourth director Kazuharu Hamasaki, now 88, accompanied the craftsmen who made the mannequins to speak with doctors who treated the A-bomb victims to make sure the details were correct. Hamasaki even dressed the figures in work clothes and air-raid hoods worn by victims.

"The creators wanted to recreate the figures down to the finest detail, even paying close attention to the condition of the skin of the victims right after the bombing," Hamasaki recalled.

Municipal government debate over keeping the figures in the peace museum began in 2010. At a city review session, committee member and Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Suffers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) Chairman Sunao Tsuboi, 91, stated that "from the viewpoint of a survivor, they do not reflect the reality of the disaster and are just toys." Others also believed that because the plastic mannequins were not actual items from the bombing, they did not belong in the exhibit, and the committee decided to remove them.

Internet users posted comments including "removing the figures because they scare children is strange," and a movement to keep the exhibit also sprang up, with a petition submitted to the Hiroshima Municipal Assembly with over 10,000 signatures. Forty-six-year-old Hiroshima resident Akihiro Katsube led the movement.

"The mannequins have the value of being made by people close to the victims and cannot be reproduced. They should re-evaluate if there is any loss to the exhibition with the removal of the figures after renovations are completed," Katsube said.

A representative of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum stated that the idea that they are removing the mannequins because they are scary is incorrect, and images of the figures continue to be shown on the museum's webpage. The museum stated there is a possibility that they may be featured in another way, such as in a separate exhibit.

The main building of the museum will close for renovations on April 26, while the east building, which has been under renovation since 2014, will reopen on the same day.

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