A-bomb survivor makes paintings of family members who vanished in the atomic bombing

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

Minoru Ozaki, 87, a resident of Minami Ward, Hiroshima, has produced many paintings that depict the horrific scenes of the aftermath of the atomic bombing. This summer he made paintings, for the first time, of his grandmother, mother, and sister, who all lost their lives in the bombing. His grandmother and sister were at their home in the Otemachi area (part of present-day Naka Ward), and his mother was on her way to work when the bomb exploded. Their remains were never found and no photos of them exist. With the wish to show that they were once part of this world, Mr. Ozaki dug deep into his memories to recall what they looked like. It’s been more than 70 years and they still haven’t come home,” he said. He titled the watercolor paintings “Missing Persons.”

Back then, his grandmother, Masa Kinoshita, was 66, and his mother, Itsue Ozaki, was 36. In his paintings they are wearing white aprons. His younger sister, Sachiko, was 8, and she is wearing a white blouse. Chiro, their dog, is also in the pictures. He added a paragraph to the paintings that reads: “It is not known where and how they died.”

On August 6, 1945, Mr. Ozaki, then a second-year student at Shudo Junior High School, had breakfast with them then left home for school. At the direction of a teacher, he was headed to join the swimming club’s practice session in Minamisendamachi when the bomb exploded. He suffered burns on his face and hands and was taken to an aid station in present-day Koyaura in the town of Saka located to the east of Hiroshima. Taken care of by local residents, Mr. Ozaki was able to survive.

His family’s home was about 950 meters from the hypocenter. Mr. Ozaki believes his grandmother and sister, along with their dog, were at home. But their whereabouts were unknown. After he recovered his health that fall, he dug up the burnt site where his house used to stand, but he was unable to find a single bone. He could not find any trace of his mother, either, who apparently went out to help tear down houses to create a fire lane.

After the war, he lived with his elder sister and younger brother. To make a living, he lied about his age and worked for the National Railways. After his father was demobilized and returned home from the military, they still struggled to make ends meet. He had to give up the idea of going back to Shudo Junior High School and, while working, went on to high school. After graduating from high school, he worked hard throughout his life for various employers.

After he retired, he began painting at the age of 77 when a grandchild brought by some watercolors that were not being used. At first, he painted pictures of what the city looked like before the war. But he began to feel that he should paint the horrific scenes that he had witnessed: survivors fleeing for their lives, a boy who cried, before dying, “I will kill the enemy!” Over the past decade, he has created more than 200 paintings.

Still, he was reluctant to paint his family members. Encouraged by the curators of the Peace Memorial Museum, he thought, “I have to produce the proof of their lives, now, or I’ll never be able to do it.” So in June, he depicted them in four paintings, relying on his faint memories. Their faces, though, seem different from what they really looked like back then, he said. Mr. Ozaki kept one of the paintings and gave the others to the museum and to a friend.

At the request of the Chugoku Shimbun, in early August he visited the site where his house had once stood. Today a school is located there and the many signs of the atomic bombing have disappeared. “I made portraits of my family members, but many people died in Hiroshima, and a lot of them have no one to remember them,” he said. “I hope people will think of them.” The paintings he made this summer, 74 years after the atomic bombing, are also for the countless number of “missing persons.”

(Originally published on August 6, 2019)