Illustrations of Hiroshima’s hypocenter surface in U.S.

by Hiromi Morita, Staff Writer

Photographs of four watercolor paintings depicting the devastation near the hypocenter soon after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima have been found at the United States National Archives and Records Administration. Masaaki Tanabe, 70, a business owner from Hiroshima who has been involved in work to restore the appearance of neighborhoods lost to the bombing through computer animation, traveled to the U.S. to obtain copies of these pictures.

The four illustrations, signed “Sodoshi,” show several structures, including Motoyasu Bridge and the Rest House in today’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, as well as dead bodies and, apparently, soldiers. Written beside the images are such Japanese captions as “Sketch of Hiroshima” and “Devastation of Hiroshima caused by the atomic bombing.” In addition, English comments are found on the backs of the paintings, indicating “This is a copy of a water color painting by Hitoshi Motani (pen name--Sodoshi), a famous medical artist in Japan,” “This painting was done a few days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima,” and other remarks.

The late Keiso Takamasu, who went into the city center in September 1945 and died in 1985 at the age of 84, is well-known as an artist who depicted the devastation of Hiroshima soon after the bombing. However, if the English comments on the backs of the illustrations are accurate, these newly-found images must have been made sometime in August, prior to Mr. Takamasu’s work.

A record called “The History of Hiroshima Prefecture: The A-bomb Documents” includes a copy of an illustration drawn by a person under the name of Sodoshi Motani who worked at Army Medical College. The illustration was made for the front cover of a report compiled by a team dispatched by the Medical Affairs Bureau of the Army Ministry of Japan to investigate the A-bomb.

Satoru Ubuki, a professor of post-war Japanese history at Hiroshima Jogakuin University, believes that the front-cover illustration and the recently-found paintings were likely made by the same person. If Sodoshi Motani was a member of the Army Ministry team, which entered Hiroshima on August 8, 1945, those sketches may have been made right after the bombing.

Hironobu Ochiba, a curator at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, commented, “Since the paintings seem to have been confiscated by U.S. forces, we can assume that the U.S. government considered even such images to be important. These valuable documents apparently illustrate the state of destruction in the immediate aftermath of the bombing.”

(Originally published on October 4, 2008)

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Sketches made soon after the atomic bombing given to Peace Memorial Museum (March 18, 2008)