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Hometown heritage focus with Satoshi Takahashi #4: Beheaded Buddha statues

Jizo statues beheaded during the Tsuchizaki air raid are seen at Unshoin temple in the city of Akita's Iijima district on July 11, 2021. All visible deities were decapitated but three of them were repaired after the war. (Satoshi Takahashi)=Clip/tap photo for more images.

Japanese photo journalist Satoshi Takahashi, renowned for pictures of the political unrest in Cambodia over the past decade or so, has recently focused on the diverse heritage of his hometown, the northern prefecture of Akita. For the fourth article of this series, Takahashi visited Unshoin temple in the prefectural capital city of Akita. Enshrined here are stone Buddha deities whose heads were blown off by fierce bombing during a war that ended 76 years ago.

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    My late grandmother was living in the port city of Akita during World War II, when it was air raided by the U.S. Air Force the night before Japan ended the war. She told me her memories of that night, when I was in elementary school about 30 years ago. "The sky turned red. The direction of the Port of Tsuchizaki was as bright as day." Her words left an enduring impression.

    The whole country was being pounded by a chain of bombings, and the Tsuchizaki air raid turned out to be the last. It started at 10:30 p.m., Aug. 14, 1945, and continued for about four hours, to end before dawn. The main target was the then Nippon Oil Akita refinery, which boasted one of the largest domestic productions in the country. More than 130 B-29 bomber planes hammered and demolished the facility.

    A ferocious fire broke out, and knife-sharp heavy bomb fragments splintered in all directions, slashing human beings. Fatalities among civilians and military personnel totaled more than 250.

    Pieces of metal reached Unshoin, a Buddhist temple, about 2 kilometers from the refinery and decapitated "jizo" statues, or guardian deities. They became known as the "beheaded jizo" and are still to be seen at the temple, enshrined as symbols of war.

    Tsukiko Ito, 80, a native of the area, was 4 years old that night. She had evacuated and returned to find her home flattened. Twenty-two people were killed in her district alone. Among them were eight children, from infants to junior high students.

    She now gives testimonies of her experience, as a member of a group whose name translates to "Civic gathering of Port of Tsuchizaki air raid survivors." She says of her determination, "Mistakes of the past shall not be repeated. Peace is indispensable. These are the notions I want to hand on to the younger generation."

    Mankind has engaged in mass murders, destruction and hatred, witnessed tragedies, and yet bloodshed still persists. Peace can slip out of our hands without anyone noticing. That is why we need to reflect on the past and work hard to keep to our country's oath to renounce war.

    (The Japanese original by Satoshi Takahashi was published on Aug. 3, 2021.)

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    Satoshi Takahashi was born in the city of Akita, Akita Prefecture in 1981. Residing in Phnom Penh from 2007 to 2018, his photos captured the social problems of Cambodia and were published globally. In 2019, his publication titled "RESISTANCE" (the subtitle roughly translates to "the undaunted spirit of Cambodians") won the 38th Domon Ken Award sponsored by the Mainichi Newspapers Co.

    In Photos: Beheaded Jizo statues bear witness to last US air raid over Japan in WWII

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