High school students to hold a VR event that allows people to experience “before and after” the atomic bombing on August 6

(by Rina Yuasa, Staff Writer)

Students from Fukuyama Technical High School, in the city of Fukuyama, are planning to hold a virtual reality (VR) event in front of the A-bomb Dome on August 6, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing. Participants will be able to experience what the area was like before and after the atomic bombing through a VR video. Students have worked on recreating the cityscape in detail in order to “convey a clear image of how a single bomb destroyed the town in an instant.” Putting on VR goggles, participants can shift their eyes from one direction to another and look at the town just like victims saw it.

You stand in front of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall (now the A-bomb Dome) under a cloudless sky and see houses and the Motoyasu River. You hear a siren. And the moment you see something fall from the Enola Gay, an American bomber, you hear an explosion and your sight goes blank. Putting on VR goggles, you feel as if you were standing at the hypocenter on the morning of the atomic bombing.

Five years ago, students of the high school’s computation skills research club began working on creating a VR video that allows people to “walk-through” and virtually look at the townscape within one kilometer from the A-bomb Dome. They have accurately reproduced locations and structures of the buildings using photos, design drawings and other materials from those days. They have also met with survivors, including those living in other prefectures such as Tokyo or Niigata, and asked them to check whether the video was made well.

“Even after 75 years, survivors still clearly remember their precious home town destroyed by the atomic bomb. We who don’t know those days can also find new information,” said Yuito Kakihara, 16, a second-year student. Katsushi Hasegawa, 54, is the teacher in charge of the club. He has helped students collect documents, and whenever they found a new detailed historical record, they made revisions to the video.

In the fall of last year, they began creating a VR video that could be watched using portable VR goggles. To help people from overseas understand the video, an English narration was recorded by Hiromu Ishioka, 17, a second year-student. He said, “I’m not good at English, but I want to help as many people as possible so that they can learn in a limited time about the horrors and sufferings caused by the atomic bombing.”

The students will hold an event titled “VR Industrial Promotion Hall” in front of the A-bomb Dome on August 6. Participants will be able to experience using portable VR goggles. On the previous day, another event titled “VR Hypocenter” will be held at the Hiroshima Green Arena in Naka Ward. Participants can virtually experience walking around the town before and after the atomic bombing using VR goggles and personal computers. Mr. Hasegawa said, “Some of the survivors who helped us produce the video have passed away. I want to be true to our promise that the students and I will hand down their wishes.”

(Originally published on January 17, 2020)