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Survivor's photo identified by son after 73 years headlines reopened Hiroshima exhibit

Tetsunobu Fujii takes in the photo of his mother, Yukiko Fujii, aged 10, that he helped identify and now hangs at the entrance to the newly reopened main building at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, in Naka Ward, Hiroshima, on April 25, 2019. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

HIROSHIMA -- The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum's main building reopened April 25 after major renovations were completed, the first carried out in 28 years.

At the opening, Tetsunobu Fujii, 58, a resident of the city of Chofu in Tokyo, was seen quietly contemplating a large photograph of a young girl, placed at the exhibit's entrance. She stares vacantly into the middle distance, standing idly in a ravaged landscape. The girl in the image, taken by a Mainichi Shimbun photographer three days after the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, is of a 10-year-old Yukiko Fujii, Tetsunobu Fujii's mother.

"Thank you for bringing me into this world," says Fujii, his words heavy with emotion. The photo was taken on Aug. 9, 1945, in the center of Hiroshima by the Mainichi Shimbun Osaka Head Office photo department's Yukio Kunihira, who died aged 92 in 2009. The identity of its subject had remained a mystery until mother and son were "reunited" through the Mainichi Shimbun's website.

In August 2017, Fujii stumbled upon the photo in an article series called the "Hiroshima Atomic-Bombing Archives," which introduced images of the atrocity stored by the Mainichi Shimbun. Convinced there was something familiar about the injury on the girl's right arm, he got in touch with the newspaper.

Using a photograph Fujii provided of his mother from after the war, the Mainichi Shimbun commissioned Masatsugu Hashimoto, a professor in forensic dentistry at Tokyo Dental College, to investigate whether they were the same person. His response came back positive, "There's a very high chance they're the same person." The girl's identity had been revealed after 73 years.

Fujii's mother almost never spoke to him or his siblings about her experience when the bomb fell. He saw the photograph as an opportunity to trace his mother's past. Relying on a memory that she had been examined by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (Now the Radiation Effects Research Foundation), he obtained medical records and other documents about his mother.

According to the records, his mother's home was only around 1.2 kilometers from the explosion's hypocenter. She had been sitting on a bench inside, near to the house's entrance, when the blast wave tore into the building, leaving burns all over her right arm. Describing her home, they read, "The area around (her house) was made up entirely of two-story wooden houses."

"It seems she managed to crawl from the rubble and escaped from the burning streets. It's a miracle she made it out alive," said Fujii.

After the war, Yukiko married and was blessed with three children including Fujii. But she died in 1977, aged only 42. At the exhibition, details of her life are introduced alongside the ways she was affected by the atomic bomb.

"She didn't express resentment for what had happened, but she probably did suffer in various ways during her lifetime. I want people to know that the atomic bomb inflicted continual physical and mental pain," Fujii said.

(Japanese original by Naohiro Yamada, Osaka Photo Department)

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