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Twitter accounts depicting 3 Hiroshima bomb victims' experiences in 'real time' an online hit

An illustration of Yasuko, a homemaker who experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and whose account of the events forms the basis of one of the three Twitter accounts, is seen in this image. (C) NHK

Aug. 6 marked 75 years since the U.S. military dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the first attack of its kind in human history. As the survivors, or hibakusha, age, and questions linger over who will inherit their memories, Twitter accounts recreating the atomic bombing in "real time" has drawn in.

    Inspired by the question of how the events of 75 years ago would have been described had social media existed then, the NHK Hiroshima Bureau started using the hashtag "hiroshimatimeline" (written in hiragana and katakana characters) in March and set up three accounts. Their content is based on the diaries of three real-life figures including one person alive today, enabling the bureau to produce a continuous stream of tweets that have a strong sense of realism.

    The three people are journalist Ichiro (@nhk_1945ichiro), pregnant homeworker Yasuko (@nhk_1945yasuko), and first-grade junior high school student Shun (@nhk_1945shun). Their use of language has been adjusted by people affiliated with the Hiroshima area to include more modern ways of writing that make the tweets easier to read. The posts span their daily lives before the bomb fell, the instant when it did, and the suffering and horror that followed.

    Ichiro's tweets from 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, read:

    "An explosion! What was that?"

    The Twitter account created by the NHK Hiroshima Bureau for Yasuko-san, one of three people whose experiences before, during and after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 have been recreated on the social media website, is seen in this screen capture taken on Aug. 6, 2020. The account had 116,000 followers at the time, and 134,000 followers as of Aug. 12.

    "The house is covered in dirt. It's even in my mouth."

    "It made a tremendously fierce impact. It was like I was slammed in the back with a hard cushion."

    After confirming that his family is safe, he goes into the city of Hiroshima to investigate what's happened.

    "There are soldiers moving like they're sleepwalking, girls with shreds of ragged clothing left hanging from their waists, severely injured people crouched next to rubble, children raising their arms, the skin peeling from them. They look like ghosts."

    "The road up Mount Hijiyama. A line of the injured stretches from the town side. There are people holding their intestines as they hang from their bodies, others collapsed from exhaustion. I can't tell if they're men or women. Peeling skin, deep red skin, pitch black faces. Faces. People's faces!"

    An illustration of Ichiro, a journalist who experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and whose account of the events forms the basis of one of the three Twitter accounts, is seen in this image. (C) NHK

    The account was updated every few minutes, and many of its followers continued to be drawn in by the sense of realism that the posts conveyed.

    Among the replies from users were messages of warning, such as, "Run away. I'm saying this for your sake," and, "Don't go over there." Some drew parallels with areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunamis in March 2011, writing, "Even though we're telling you to escape, I guess you have no idea where you could go. It's like it was on 3.11." There were also some tweets sharing maps as well as images of what the areas described look like today.

    Homemaker Yasuko lived in a village on the outskirts of Hiroshima, where her father-in-law ran a clinic. She describes the streams of people affected by the bomb who were brought in for treatment.

    "There's a truck filled with people, people and more people. Perhaps around 20 in all. Among them was one young boy who didn't look injured. But he quickly descended into a kind of violent fit, and died. What's happened in Hiroshima?"

    "Bruises to the body, lacerations, burns. There're already too many to fit in the clinic waiting room."

    One reply to her tweet, which appeared to have come from a young person, read, "This is the reality of what happened at this exact time 75 years ago. My heart feels the pain. A reality we have never experienced is unfolding before us. I feel like, little by little, we, the people of the present, have been able to really see it. I'm painfully aware that we can't just observe a moment of silence at 8:15 a.m. and then go 'OK, done!' I realized their real suffering is to start from there."

    An illustration of Shun, a first-grade junior high school student who experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and whose account of the events forms the basis of one of the three Twitter accounts, is seen in this image. (C) NHK

    Yasuko's posts temporarily stopped at around 11 a.m. on the day the bomb fell. In response, one reader wrote to her, "I'm worried about you with no word from you. ... Saving people in these circumstances must be tough, but for the sake of the child in your womb, don't push yourself too hard." Another wrote, "Yasuko-saaan! I'm worried if you're OK -- not just you but the child inside your tummy. Are you safe?" The messages, which seemed just like the kind of anxious and concerned tweets seen in response to current events, appeared continuously.

    Conversely, junior high school student Shun was an evacuee who had been sent to the outskirts of Hiroshima. He went into the city to find out if his family was safe.

    "Is Hiroshima ... completely destroyed?

    "What's that? Something's coming. From the row of pine trees."

    "Their faces are falling apart. People with their eyes and noses falling off their faces. No, this can't be something that happens to people. They're the shape of people, but ..."

    "They're collapsing slowly. One person, then another falls down and stops moving. They stop moving, one after another, and slowly the road is blocked with their bodies. What do I do?"

    The account's followers traced his route, and imagined what was to come. One wrote, "I want to say something like 'Don't look anymore," or 'Turn back!' but this is the reality, isn't it?" Another said, "I can't help feeling terrible just thinking that a junior high school student saw these scenes. It'd traumatize you for life, I think." Their words were infused with real feeling.

    Atushi Takauji, who is in charge of public relations at the NHK Hiroshima Bureau, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It's 75 years since the war ended. How we communicate its reality to young people so it isn't forgotten with time is a big issue. The proposal to do it via social media came from a director in their 20s, and the project was prepared over about a year."

    As a result of their efforts, the three accounts have as of Aug. 6 garnered over 350,000 followers between them. This is 25 times more than the number of followers of the NHK Hiroshima Bureau's official account, which stands at around 14,000.

    "Honestly, I was surprised," Takauji said. "It apparently resonated with the hearts of everyone, of young people, far more than I had imagined. If this can serve as an opportunity for people to develop a deeper interest in the war and issues around peace, I would be happy. We'll also be portraying the world as it looked after the war, so please keep following."

    As of the evening of Aug. 12, the three accounts had a total of over 407,000 followers.

    (Japanese original by Yuka Obuno, Integrated Digital News Center)

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