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New book chronicles Hiroshima's streetcars before and after the A-bomb

Yukiko Masuno, who worked as a streetcar operator during World War II, remembers with a smile how she adored her Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. uniform, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward, on Dec. 5, 2017. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- A book visually introducing this city's A-bombed streetcars alongside interviews with former schoolgirls who worked on them during World War II has hit shelves, offering readers a broad perspective of this part of the city's history.

Titled "Hibaku Densha 75-nen no Tabi" (The 75-year journey of the A-bombed trains), the book follows the path to restoring operations of the city's streetcars after the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945. It also showcases the 650-series trains that survived the tragedy of the bomb and are still in use today, with photos and illustrations.

The day the atomic bomb was dropped, Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. (Hiroden) lost 185 staff and female student conductors from the Kasei Jogakko (homemaking girls' school) alone. Of the 123 trains that had run at street level, only three worked without any problems. Still, service was resumed a mere three days later, on Aug. 9.

The girls' school was opened by Hiroden in 1943 after the Imperial Japanese government sharply increased the number of conscripted soldiers. The book includes an interview with 87-year-old Kumano resident Tetsuko Shakuta, who studied at the school and was the conductor of the first streetcar to run on Aug. 9, 1945.

Shakuta began her studies at Hiroden's school in the spring of 1945. She says that while "speaking in a loud voice in front of people upon becoming a conductor was embarrassing," she also felt that she was doing her best for the sake of the country. "For better or for worse, our education (at the school) made us who we were back then," she reflects.

On the first train running from Koi to Nishi-Temma-cho, Shakuda remembers, "Passengers flooded (into the streetcar) like it was a competition."

Due to the war draft, male employees were scarce, so Yukiko Masuno, of Hiroshima's Naka Ward, became the operator of one of the 650-series trains. Masuno, now 87, nostalgically remembers her dorm life, how refreshing it was to get to interact with a variety of people through her work as a conductor and even when she received a love letter on the job. At the same time she recalls the horrendous state of the city immediately after the bomb blast.

Masuno was at her dorm in the Minami district of Hiroshima in current-day Minami Ward at the time of the bombing, and says her back was pierced by 114 shards of glass. She was in terrible pain, and when she met her sister-in-law while evacuating, she apparently called out to her, "It's fine if I die." She also recalls the sight of a river filled with the bodies of the victims, among other scenes.

Along with the interviews with the two former Hiroden workers and current employees, the book also includes a manga created by an artist with the pen name "Sasurai no Kanabun," based on the testimony of what her grandmother, who was also a student at the school and a conductor, experienced. At a total of 136 pages, the book costs 2,500 yen, excluding tax.

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