"What did my mother see when she stood there in the aftermath of the atomic bomb?"
A picture of a 10-year-old girl hangs at the entrance to the newly renovated part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum unveiled in 2019. The image was taken by a Mainichi Shimbun photographer three days after the U.S. military dropped the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, in the west Japan prefecture of the same name, on Aug. 6, 1945.
Until recently the identity of its subject had been unknown. But thanks to efforts by those including the photographed woman's eldest son, 59-year-old Tetsunobu Fujii, her name and life was brought to light: Yukiko Fujii, a Hiroshima woman who went on to die in 1977 at just 42 years old from bone marrow cancer caused by the effects of the bomb.
On Jan. 25, Tetsunobu, a resident of the suburban Tokyo city of Chofu, gave a lecture in the capital about his efforts to trace his mother's footsteps and his findings about her life.
At the event, Tetsunobu showed the audience an illustration of where his mother would have been just before the bomb fell. She is depicted sat on a bench close to the entrance of her house. Light leaks in from the open front door. At the instant the bomb fell, Yukiko was some 1.2 kilometers east of the hypocenter, at the home where her family ran a western food restaurant. He explained that his mother had told him, "The blast wave hit me just as I was leaning on my right hand."
Relying on memories of his mother having been checked by the U.S. Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC, now the Radiation Effects Research Foundation), Tetsunobu requested his mother's patient records and then analyzed them. From them, he confirmed that his mother had suffered a serious burn to her right arm from the explosion. He then produced the illustration using the records, depicting her in the same clothes she was photographed in three days after the bomb fell.
"What was my mother doing before and after the bomb was dropped? I couldn't shake the thought that I wanted to know more about my mother's life," he said. At the end of 2017, Yukiko Fujii was confirmed as the girl in the photo taken by Mainichi Shimbun photographer Yukio Kunihira, who died in 2009 aged 92, after it was evaluated by experts.
Her identification as the subject of the photo came after Tetsunobu saw the image of a young girl with a burn on her right hand in a photo series on the Mainichi Shimbun's website. He approached the newspaper, saying he thought it might be his mother.
From the spring of 2019, the image has become part of the permanent exhibition at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. But Tetsunobu continues to investigate his mother's life from the time the bomb dropped.
She never told him that she had met a photographer in those ashen days after the bomb. The area where the photo was taken has not been identified. But because she appears to have had mercurochrome applied, it is thought the image was taken near a first-aid station. What appears to be a fire-resistant safe can also be seen in the background.
When compared alongside the description Kunihira provided at the time, it's speculated that the photo was taken on the main road that leads from Hiroshima Station to the ruined building now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome.
Yukiko started cancer treatment and was in and out of hospital starting in her 30s. Tetsunobu would go to see her at her sickroom after his high school classes would finish, and he remembers often stroking her feet and back. He said that he can never stop thinking that if there had just never been an atomic bomb, his mother would have enjoyed a much longer life.
Tetsunobu was invited to give the lecture by a residents' group, and it marked his first time taking the stage to talk about his mother. Looking back on the chance meeting with her photograph, he said, "All I can think is that she moved me, her son, to tell people about her experiences."
(Japanese original by Naohiro Yamada, Osaka Photo Department)