- A-bomb Images
- Yoshito Matsushige’s photographic negatives, five “witnesses” of A-bombing, Part 1: Only remaining photos taken that day
Yoshito Matsushige’s photographic negatives, five “witnesses” of A-bombing, Part 1: Only remaining photos taken that day
by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer
Two photographs, enlarged to about two meters by two meters, are displayed at the opening of the exhibit area in the main building of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, located in the city’s Naka Ward. The photos capture images of wounded city residents gathered at the west end of the Miyuki Bridge right after the atomic bombing of August 6, 1945. They were snapped shortly after 11:00 a.m. by Yoshito Matsushige (1913–2005), a staff photographer for the Chugoku Shimbun and a member of the Chugoku District Military Headquarters news team.
Seigo Nishioka, 89, Hatsukaichi City, then a first-year student at Hiroshima Prefectural Technical High School, was at that spot, about 2.2 kilometers from the hypocenter. “I was in total confusion. I didn’t know what had happened or what to do.” Mr. Nishioka experienced the atomic bombing on his school grounds in Senda-machi (now part of Naka Ward), suffering burns and injured on the left side of his body. He fled to the Miyuki Bridge with an older student. After parting with the other student, he was at a loss for what to do.
A temporary relief station had been set up there, which became the frontlines at which evacuees from the direction of the hypocenter and people who rushed to engage in relief work mingled together. There were people lying there completely depleted of energy and corpses floating on the river’s surface. Amid the chaos was a man near the police station by the west end of the bridge who had the appearance of a soldier with an armband and a camera in his hand. People around Mr. Nishioka whispered, “That guy isn’t even wearing a military badge. He could be a spy.”
In his book “The Moment of Hiroshima’s Destruction,” published in 1981, Mr. Matsushige wrote, “I lingered in the area for 30 minutes before I mustered the nerve to take the first photo.” The man Mr. Nishioka saw is believed to have been Mr. Matsushige, who was hesitating to take a photo of such terrible suffering directly from in front of people.
“I was there,” blurted out Mr. Nishioka when he saw the photo for the first time in later years. He had his burns treated with oil in the same way as victims in the photograph had. “Even today, uneasy feelings from that time return to me when I see the photo,” he said.
When the photo was exhibited in the city of Hiroshima in 1973, Mitsuko Kochi (who died in 2018 at the age of 86), then a second-year student at Hiroshima Girls’ Commercial School, publicly identified herself as the schoolgirl in uniform standing with her back to the camera. In her later years, she spoke about her A-bomb experience at elementary schools.
On the other hand, an 89-year-old woman who was Ms. Kochi’s classmate standing next to her in the picture did not dare identify herself, based on the thinking that “people would not understand the misery even were I to speak openly about it.” As she and Ms. Kochi fled the area, they met up with an injured boy with close-cropped hair at a riverbank by the foot of the Miyuki Bridge. He tried to follow along but they had to leave him behind, a memory that continues to haunt her.
“Don’t forget there are many harsh realities not shown in the photo,” she said. The six-by-six centimeter negatives, which captured the scenes of that day, are engraved with the memories of people who shared the same moment, including Mr. Matsushige.
Mr. Matsushige’s five photographic negatives were designated by Hiroshima City as important tangible cultural assets because they represent the only existing photos that record the miserable conditions of citizens immediately after the atomic bombing. In this series, we hope to explore the significance of the photos and the challenges in taking responsibility for them going forward.
(Originally published on March 28, 2021)