Silent Witness

Silent Witness: Melted marbles—keepsake of a child, grief, and anger

by Miho Kuwajima, Staff Writer

Mother devoted herself to the anti-nuclear movement

Melted by heat rays, these marbles symbolize the sorrow and anger felt by a mother who lost her beloved child in the atomic bombing. Yukimi Matsuda found the marbles when digging through the burned ruins of her family’s home, located in Takara-machi (now part of Naka Ward in Hiroshima), 1.25 kilometers from the hypocenter. She kept them with her as a remembrance of her oldest son Toshihiko. Ms. Matsuda died at 91 in December 2001.

During World War II, the Matsuda family was evacuated to present-day Higashihiroshima for the sake of safety. At the time, Toshihiko was a third-year student at Hiroshima Municipal First Technical School (now Hiroshima Prefectural Technical High School). When the atomic bomb was dropped, he was close to the Takanobashi streetcar stop on his way to a munitions factory where he worked as a mobilized student. He wandered around the city despite his burns and three days later arrived at the location of his family’s evacuation.

In Hiroshima no Kawa (Rivers of Hiroshima), published in 1985 by a Hiroshima group of mothers opposed to atomic and hydrogen bombs, Ms. Matsuda quoted her son in notes: “I’ll study chemistry and have my revenge on the enemy, no matter what,” and “When I graduate from school, I’ll take care of my brother and sister’s education, so don’t worry.” She also included Toshihiko’s words while he suffered from a high fever before dying: “I’ll never die,” he shouted. But on the evening of August 21, he drew his last breath. He was 15.

As if driven by her son’s death, after the war Ms. Matsuda devoted herself to the anti-nuclear movement. She was a member of a delegation that participated in the second United Nations Special Session on Disarmament, held in New York City in 1982. She also created tanka poems describing her hopes for peace. One of her poems reads: “As August 6 draws near, I once again try to count, how old my son would be, despite his death in the atomic bombing.” Before he died, Toshihiko was concerned about his brother Minoru’s education. Minoru, who died in 2012, made great efforts to assist in the building of elementary schools in Nepal while working as the dean of students at Hiroshima University of Economics.

Ms. Matsuda donated the marbles she had kept at their family Buddhist altar, along with Toshihiko’s shirt and trousers, to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in 1983. Another of her poems describes: “The marbles my beloved child played with are deformed, come rolling.”

(Originally published on January 20, 2020)