Footage of Hondori Avenue, before and after the atomic bombing, is found

by Yoko Nitta and Hideshi Iwasaki, Staff Writers

On July 23, it was learned that images of Hondori Avenue, before and after the atomic blast, were captured on 8 millimeter film. The footage features scenes near the hypocenter, both before and after the bombing from a similar vantage point, making it a rare find. The contrast between the hustle-and-bustle of the busiest shopping street in the city and its stillness after the bombing on August 6, 1945, which destroyed Hondori Avenue completely, exemplifies the tragic horror of the atomic bombing. This footage serves as an important resource for conveying the history of Hiroshima.

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Nobuichi Yoshioka, the owner of a fabric shop in the Kawaya-cho District (now, Hondori District), which was about 400 meters from the hypocenter, shot the footage. He started making films around 1937. Mr. Yoshioka passed away in 1966 at the age of 71, but his eldest son, Hiroo, 82, has preserved a portion of his father’s 8 millimeter films, 48 reels in total. The original footage (edited for this website) depicts Hondori Avenue during wartime, but before the bombing, for about 15 minutes and then the devastated city center for about two and a half minutes.

Street lights in the shape of lilies-of-the-valley, once regarded as symbols of Hondori Avenue, are seen on both sides of the street, which was narrower than the present thoroughfare. This footage appears to have been shot in December 1937, when Nanjing, then capital of China, fell during the Sino-Japanese War. Japanese flags are hoisted at shop entrances, displaying the mood of wartime.

Mr. Yoshioka’s store was across the street from the Hiroshima branch of Mitsui Bank (later, the Hiroshima branch of Imperial Bank, and now, Hiroshima Andersen) and recorded sights around that area. His footage includes the crowd that gathered for a special discount sale in conjunction with the Ebisu Grand Festival, fire drills, and more tranquil scenes. The Hiroshima Municipal Archives believes this footage was shot around the period of 1937 to 1940, when the influence of war was not yet full-blown.

The film of Hondori Avenue captured after the bombing is completely different, depicting a charred wasteland. The area is littered with debris and only the outer shells of the Hiroshima Branch of Obayashi Corporation (later, the Hondori branch of Yamaguchi Bank, dismantled in 2002) and Shimomura Jewelers are left standing. The camera also peers south from the Kaminobori-cho District and catches the facades of Fukuya Department Store and the former building of the Chugoku Shimbun on the scorched earth.

The after-war footage seems to have been shot around January of 1946, since not many shacks that were hurriedly built after the war are seen and the reels of film were stored in a box with a note that read “New Year’s Day, Hiroshima.” Other scenes of downtown Hiroshima after the bombing were recorded by the Japan Film Corporation and American forces, but surviving film shot by civilians is very rare.

(Originally published on July 24, 2008)