Letter, kept for years, reveals A-bomb death of woman wishing for marriage

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

Takashi Shimomura, 96, a resident of Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, long kept a letter that was delivered to him from Hiroshima a year after the atomic bombing. The letter was sent by a woman who looked after Mr. Shimomura when he lived at her boarding house in Hiroshima. She had hoped that her daughter would marry him in the future, but wrote to tell him that she had been killed in the atomic bombing. The letter reveals the anguish of the A-bomb attack, which stole away the happy, everyday lives of the people living at that time.

An excerpt from the letter reads: “Poor Chieko died in the bombing.” Mr. Shimomura received this letter from Itsue Ikeda, who died in 1984 at the age of 81. She ran a boarding house out of her home in Midorimachi (now part of Minami Ward, Hiroshima). Her five-page letter, dated August 14, 1946, was written on the day of the first anniversary of Chieko’s death. Chieko, who was Ms. Ikeda’s eldest daughter, worked for the Hiroshima Branch of the Bank of Japan.

Back then, Mr. Shimomura was a student at Hiroshima Higher Technical School (now Hiroshima University). Looking back on the days he spent at Ms. Ikeda’s boarding house, he said, “I was like a part of her family.” He once took Chieko, who was two years younger than Mr. Shimomura, out to a concert. After he graduated, Ms. Ikeda handed him a photo of Chieko and said, “I would like you to consider taking her as your wife.”

In April 1945, after he joined the navy, Chieko came by herself to see him at the navy base in Kure. She looked very serious in deep thought. Mr. Shimomura wanted to tell her, “Why don’t you quit your job at the bank and come here to be with me?” But he held back. He was 21 and, with the conditions of the war deteriorating, he had no way of predicting his fate. He saw her off at the train station without a word. It was the last time he saw her.

Ms. Ikeda wrote, “Takashi, if you had said something decisive about marrying her at that time, Chieko might have stopped working at the bank.”

On August 6, 1945, Chieko headed to work ten minutes earlier than usual, and experienced the atomic bombing while on a streetcar near Shirakami-sha Shrine (now part of Nakamachi, Naka Ward). Though she fled to a relative’s home in Saijo-cho (now part of Shobara, Hiroshima Prefecture), she passed away on August 14 before Ms. Ikeda, despite her haste, could reach her side.

Mr. Shimomura failed to meet Ms. Ikeda or Chieko again, and the war ended. He then moved to Nagano, where his father was working. A year after he moved, he sent a postcard to Ms. Ikeda, telling her of his whereabouts. Replying to his postcard, Ms. Ikeda wrote the letter that shared the death of her daughter. The letter also included Ms. Ikeda’s final wish for him as Chieko’s mother.

She wrote, “I hope you will always remember and pity Chieko.” And she signed the letter, “From a woman who survived the fire of the bombing to Takashi, with feelings of nostalgia.”

Mr. Shimomura became a mechanical designer and got married while in his 30s. He and his wife were blessed with two children. He never shared his memories of Hiroshima with his wife, though they were married for more than 50 years. She died four years ago, and he now lives in a nursing facility attached to a hospital.

Each year, as the August 6 anniversary approached, he would read over the letter again and feel exasperated. Last October, he donated the letter to the Peace Memorial Museum, in Naka Ward, thinking that he didn’t have many more years to live. He felt a bit hesitant about showing this private letter to the public, but he hopes that it can help others understand the tragedy of the atomic bombing.

Reflecting on his life, Mr. Shimomura now says, “At least I could keep the promise to never forget her.”

(Originally published on August 4, 2019)