Silent Witness

Silent Witness: Girl’s pigtails help to identify her

by Yuji Yamamoto, Staff Writer

The black hair, no longer glossy, has been kept in a wooden box. The hair is from Tomiko Kamei, who died at the age of 13 three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Though she was barely recognizable as a result of her injuries, her black pigtails enabled her family to find her.

Tomiko was a second-year student at Yamanaka Girls High School, attached to Hiroshima Women's Higher School of Education (the forerunner of Fukuyama Junior and Senior High School attached to Hiroshima University). She left home early on the morning of August 6, mobilized to help tear down homes in order to create a fire lane in the event of air raids. Her older sister, Yoshiko, now 90 and a resident of Hatsukaichi City, told her not to go because she had hurt her foot. But Tomiko, who was the president of her class, responded by saying, “I still have to go,” out of her sense of responsibility. She then left the house.

On August 7, Yoshiko and her mother went out in search of Tomiko and eventually found her on Kanawajima Island (now part of Minami Ward). She was barely recognizable because her face was badly swollen from the severe burns she had suffered. But when Yoshiko and her mother saw her pigtails on her back, they realized that it was Tomiko because it was compulsory for girls to have pigtails at her school.

Despite her family’s desperate care, Tomiko died. Her mother asked a soldier, who was cremating corpses, to cremate Tomiko separately from the other bodies. She must have wanted to give Tomiko a proper cremation as a human being because large numbers of bodies were being cremated together amid the chaotic conditions of that time. In the end, the soldier was able to preserve Tomiko’s hair for her mother, perhaps because he empathized with her grief.

Yoshiko donated Tomiko’s hair to the Peace Memorial Museum in 2004. In her diary entry of July 24, which was donated along with her hair, Tomiko writes, “I should have done the air-raid drill a lot better.” Thirteen days later Tomiko was hit by the A-bomb’s overwhelming heat and blast, which were impossible for even the most well-prepared people to cope with.

(Originally published on April 1, 2019)