Silent Witness

Silent Witness: Fountain pen stuck to owner’s skin at time of the atomic bombing

by Miho Kuwajima, Staff Writer

Burn remains on tortoiseshell pen

On August 5, 1974, one day before the 29th anniversary of the atomic bombing, Tetsuo Kawakami (who died at age 92 in 2004) wrote, “Please take care of my pen forever.” He put down those words for when he donated to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum his tortoiseshell-patterned fountain pen, with which he had survived the disaster. A burn on the pen’s surface was caused by the bomb’s thermal rays.

Mr. Kawakami was 33 at the time of the atomic bombing. In the morning on that day, he was on his way to work at the Chugoku Shimbun company, which was located in Kaminagarekawa-cho (now Ebisumachi in Naka Ward), after he had left his home in Yoshijima-honmachi (now Yoshijima-higashi in Naka Ward). As he was walking along the road behind the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital (now Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital & Atomic-bomb Survivors Hospital), he heard a loud blast and was buried underneath the rubble of a collapsed house.

That happened 1.4 kilometers from the hypocenter. The national uniform he wore was burned, and he suffered severe burns that left peeled skin hanging from his body. Strangely, only the fountain pen he had placed in his chest pocket managed to survive to this time. “The pen was stuck to part of the burned skin hanging from my body and remained as the only memento of the time,” wrote Mr. Kawakami.

Escaping death at a first-aid station in Hiroshima’s Oko area (now part of Minami Ward), Mr. Kawakami gradually recovered from his wounds under his wife’s care. Later, until his retirement in 1968, he held different positions at the Chugoku Shimbun, including as deputy manager of the typography department No. 2 in the company’s engineering division.

The ‘memento,’ which he donated six years after his retirement, is kept carefully in a storage room at the Peace Memorial Museum.

(Originally published on April 20, 2020)