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'Youngest victim' of Hiroshima A-bomb lays out history with AI-colorized photos, 3D maps

Jiro Hamasumi, the "youngest victim of the A-bomb," speaks during an interview in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Mainichi/Akinori Miyamoto)

TOKYO -- A victim of the atomic bomb in the womb. That is how Tokyo resident Jiro Hamasumi describes himself as he begins to speak of his experiences.

    This past August marked 77 years since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And Hamasumi may be the youngest hibakusha, or victim of those bombs. His mother, while pregnant with him, was in Hiroshima near the blast's hypocenter on Aug. 7, 1945, the day after it happened.

    A meeting to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was held at United Nations headquarters in New York for the first time in seven years, after delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. With Russia's threat to use nuclear weapons amid its war against Ukraine in the background, the road to ridding the world of nuclear weapons has been made that much steeper. And so, 76-year-old Hamasumi, an assistant secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), was there in New York to bear witness about the effects of the atomic bomb before audiences at universities, churches and the U.N.

    On Aug. 6 local time, Hamasumi spoke to a room of about 30 people at the University of Tokyo's New York office, in one of the high-rise buildings near the south end of Central Park. He spoke of the day his father never returned home.

    A photo, colorized by AI as part of a project by University of Tokyo professor Hidenori Watanave, shows the mushroom cloud directly after an atomic bomb was dropped by an American B-29 aircraft onto the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. (Image courtesy of Hidenori Watanave)

    Hamasumi's father had worked just 4 kilometers away from the bomb's hypocenter. His mother was six months away from giving birth when she went there to find him.

    When Hamasumi turned 49, the age at which his father died, he was told in detail of the misery in Hiroshima and his family's hardships by his five elder siblings.

    Before ending his lecture, Hamasumi brought out a photograph. It was a picture of the mushroom cloud taken from an American B-29 bomber right after the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Beneath the giant white cloud, there were fields of brown, hills of green -- the photo was in full color.

    The photo was colorized using artificial intelligence (AI) as part of a project by Hidenori Watanave, a graduate school professor at the University of Tokyo's Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, to pass the experiences of war from generation to generation.

    Jiro Hamasumi, an assistant secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), is seen in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Mainichi/Akinori Miyamoto)

    "The lives of countless people were there under this mushroom cloud, which were lost in an instant to the atomic bomb. This colorized photo makes it easier to understand that beneath the cloud was land where people were living," Hamasumi told the audience.

    During the lecture in New York, digital maps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were displayed on a large monitor. The maps are from the Nagasaki Archive and Hiroshima Archive, previous projects by professor Watanave's team which were released in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The 3D maps showed the faces of about 250 people transposed onto the locations where they were exposed to the bombs, along with photos depicting the destruction in each area.

    As fellow Nihon Hidankyo activist Sueichi Kido began to tell of his experiences, scenes of life in Nagasaki at the time showed up on the screen. He pointed to a spot, saying, "I was right there." Now 82, Kido was 5 years old when the bomb fell on the city.

    Hamasumi wants to ensure that the experiences of the atomic bomb victims live on even after the victims themselves have passed away. He said that tools for getting across a sense of being there and activating peoples' imaginations are important for this purpose.

    "As long as nuclear weapons exist, so too will the fight to rid the world of them. To that end, we must provide ways for the victims to share their experiences and to make historical items accessible. These archives are one way to do that," said Hamasumi.

    The threat of nuclear weapons is as pressing now as ever. For that reason, Hamasumi wants people to think about the possibility of their or their family's future being taken away as a consequence of the "defend against nukes with nukes" rationale.

    (Japanese original by Shota Harumashi, Tokyo City News Department)

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