Memories of Nakajima Honmachi, Part 2

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

Bodies thick on the surface of the river

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is located on a delta. “Nakajima-cho” is the name of the area occupied by the park and goes back to the 16th century, during the time of the Edo period. According to old records dating back to feudal Hiroshima, the design for the city’s crest reflects the water beside which the city was established. The image includes a swirl that suggests “the city built up by the water.”

“When I was a boy, boats loaded with cargo would come down the river. I used to fish for shrimp and sea bream,” said Kenji Ato, 63.

“That’s right,” agreed Kazuo Fukushima, 67. “Sometimes I made mischief by throwing carbide into the water. I could catch a lot of fish in one fell swoop.”

Both Mr. Ato and Mr. Fukushima were born and raised in Jisenji-no-hana, an area at the northern end of the former Nakajima Honmachi district, which was located between the Motoyasu River and Honkawa River. Mr. Ato and Mr. Fukushima were neighbors, with Mr. Ato’s home in the Ato Hospital and Mr. Fukushima’s in the Fukukame Inn.

The Aioi Bridge, which stands in Jisenji-no-hana, became the target of the atomic bomb. Since that day, their neighborhood of so many childhood memories was transformed into the site where their loved ones lost their lives.

Mr. Ato was in the fourth grade at Nakajima Elementary School and traveled to school from an evacuation site in what is now Hatsukaichi. His sister Shuko, 16, a fourth-year student at Hiroshima Municipal Girls High School (now Funairi Senior High School), and his brother Akira, 13, a second-year student at Sotoku Junior High School, remained at their home in Nakajima Honmachi and spent their days laboring as mobilized students.

“The train heading to my evacuation site stopped due to an air raid warning,” explained Mr. Ato. “It arrived there near dawn. I survived because I went to sleep instead of going back to school.” Around the same time, his sister Harumi, 12, a first-year student at Hiroshima Municipal Girls High School, left her own evacuation site, looking back at their mother who had come to see her off. At Harumi’s worksite, where she had been mobilized, houses were being dismantled to create a firebreak.

On the eve of the bombing, the air raid siren sounded several times, a rare and eerie occurrence in Hiroshima. According to city records, the siren went off at 9:20 p.m., 9:27 p.m., and again at 12:25 a.m. The warning was then canceled at 7:31 a.m. on August 6. Hiroshima residents, who had spent a restless night, began to prepare breakfast and hurry to their worksites. At 8:15 a.m., the atomic bomb was dropped.

Mr. Fukushima, who was a second-year student at Sanyo Junior High School, was exposed to radiation from the blast while working at a factory. After the “black rain” stopped falling in the aftermath of the bombing, he headed for the area of the hypocenter to look for his father Matsukichi, 48, his mother Shizuko, 38, his grandparents, and his aunt.

Mr. Fukushima made his way along the Yamate River, the Fukushima River, the Tenma River, the Otagawa River (now the Honkawa River), and the Motoyasu River. As he neared Nakajima Honmachi, he saw “dead bodies, red and blistered with the skin peeled off” in the water cistern used to fight fires. Depleted of patience and hope, he finally arrived at the western side of the present Peace Park grounds in the evening. Flames still burned red on the surface of the earth.

Eventually, Mr. Fukushima reached Jisenji-no-hana and found some remains in the rubble of Fukukame Inn. The scores of bodies floating on the river had become bloated like watermelons and fish were biting at the flesh. “It was hell on earth,” Mr. Fukushima and Mr. Ato both said.

In addition to family members, Ato Hospital lost nurses to the bombing and two female employees and male customers of Fukukame Inn went missing.

The only daughter of Kimi Shoda, 40, one of the Fukukame Inn employees who went missing, still survives. “I can only imagine my mother perished at the inn because there was no trace of her,” said Kimi’s daughter Tokiko, 74. “It was as if she were swept away by a broom.” After the bombing, Tokiko was consumed with taking care of both her grandmother, who was exposed to radiation along with Tokiko, and her husband, who died on September 9 after also being exposed to radiation. She could not make her way to Jisenji-no-hana until fall came. A wallet embroidered by her mother is her only memento.

As they stood at the site of Jisenji-no-hana, so many years later, Ms. Shoda, Mr. Fukushima, and Mr. Ato squinted as they looked at the calm surface of the river, reflecting the A-bomb Dome as it basked in the bright summer sunshine.

(Originally published on July 29, 1999)