Comment: Thoughts on the “Silent Witness” series

by Keisuke Yoshihara, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Quietly kept in the storage room of the first basement of the east building of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum are many artifacts from the atomic bombing of this city. Numbering around 20,000 items, these artifacts have been donated to the museum by A-bomb survivors and family members of A-bomb victims. Over the past several years, from 40 to 70 A-bombed items are still being donated to the museum annually. According to the museum staff, donations of things that victims were wearing at the time of the bombing, like clothes and gaiters, have declined, while photos, among other things, from that time have increased. Items displayed as part of the museum’s exhibits comprise only a small portion of the whole collection.

Photos of such artifacts, not seen by the public, are occasionally shared on the Peace Page of Monday’s Chugoku Shimbun, as part of a series called “Silent Witness.” I watched photos of certain items being taken on March 1, the day I assumed the role of executive director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center. These A-bombed artifacts — a pocket watch, a medicine case, a hat, and tea utensils that were wrapped with care — were taken from the storage room and slowly placed, one after the other, on the photography platform. The tension in the room rose as the photographer’s voice spontaneously dropped to a murmur while clicking the shutter of the camera.

The most striking moment for me was when I saw a shard of glass that was one centimeter in diameter, wrapped in gauze. The handwritten note accompanying the glass read: “This was found from the bottom of the man’s left shoulder on September 9, 2012.” It is said that the man, an A-bomb survivor, had died on the previous day and that the fragment of glass had been discovered after his body was cremated.

September 2012 was just six and a half years ago. This year marks the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing. Thus, that shard of glass had been embedded in the man’s body for 68 years. The document concerning this artifact said that nearly 50 fragments of glass had been removed from his body at a clinic after he experienced the atomic bombing, but it seems some had still remained.

Since the size of that glass fragment was not so small, it must have caused him pain on a regular basis. I imagine he couldn’t help recalling the time of the A-bomb attack whenever that glass inside his body created discomfort, until the last day of his life.

August 6, 1945, the day of the atomic bombing, should not be thought of as an old event that happened long ago. With the milestone 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing approaching in 2020, the museum’s main building will reopen to the public next month with a complete renewal of its exhibition space. I ask myself if there is anything in the museum that has been overlooked or left unshared, and I wonder what the Chugoku Shimbun has failed to adequately communicate in our articles.

(Originally published on March 7, 2019)