Memories of Nakajima Honmachi, Part 4

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

Uncle helps boy follow in his father's footsteps

Now that summer vacation has begun, many children can be seen in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum with a notebook in their hands. Among the museum’s newly-donated items, there is a wall clock, its hands charred. The description of the clock indicates that it was unearthed from beneath the ruins of a house that was razed by fire. The house was located about 200 meters from the hypocenter and the donor lost his parents, his older brother, and his older sister, at that site. Tokuzo Hamai, 65, the donor of the clock, now resides in Hatsukaichi, a city adjacent to Hiroshima.

“My father’s younger brother found the clock and brought it to the village of Miyauchi on the day after the bombing, along with the bones of my family,” Mr. Hamai said. “He walked from the Koi area to my house and dug through the rubble where my house had stood. I guess he wanted me to grasp that the members of my family were really dead. When he arrived in Miyauchi, he said that no one had survived, and he cried.” The clock used to hang on the wall of his family’s barbershop at 33-1 Nakajima-cho, on the first floor of the house where Mr. Hamai was born.

Mr. Hamai was 11 years old and a fifth grader at Honkawa Elementary School when children began to be evacuated to rural areas for safety in April 1945. He went to stay at his relatives’ house in Miyauchi Village (now, Hatsukaichi City) and attended a local school there. While most of the children who were in third grade and above were evacuated to Futami-gun in the northern part of Hiroshima Prefecture, Mr. Hamai lived with his relatives about 15 kilometers from his family’s home. “I was the youngest child in the family and I guess my parents didn’t want to send me to a place far away,” said Mr. Hamai.

The last day he spent with his parents is etched in his memory. It was the day before the bombing.

He spent that day in Hara, a neighboring village where his mother was from, with his father Jiro, 46, his mother Itoyo, 35, and his sister Hiroko, 14 and in her third year at Yasuda Girls’ High School. Though the three were invited to spend the night there, they returned home because Mr. Hamai’s brother Tamazo, who was 12 at the time and a first-year student at Shudo Junior High School, was heading home from work as a mobilized student. Mr. Hamai recalls that his mother, who was born in Hawaii, had a beautiful dark blue parasol and he waved to them until the parasol was nearly out of sight.

“When I have time, I often come to Peace Park,” he said. “This place naturally brings back memories.” With a photo album in hand, he visited the spot where his house once stood, not far from the Children’s Peace Monument, which was erected in 1958.

One photo in the album shows his father, wearing a bow tie, cutting a customer’s hair. Another shows his mother cradling a small child on her lap. His sister, wearing a kimono, is seen with a friend from her childhood days. The names of all five family members are recorded in the album; four of them died on August 6.

There are also photos of friends of the Hamai brothers, including a kimono dealer’s son and the son of a noodle shop owner. The album, which contains photos of the Hamai family and children of Nakajima Honmachi, also serves as a record of the bomb’s many victims.

One of the photos, taken in 1939, is a commemorative portrait of the 14th graduating class of Hiroshima Barber School. “My father was an instructor at the school, located at Jisenji Temple,” said Mr. Hamai. “I heard that he taught hairdressing skills through the use of hair clippers.” After the war, Mr. Hamai learned hairdressing from his uncle and followed in his father’s footsteps as a barber.

  Mr. Hamai was adopted by his uncle, Kanji, who died at the age of 89 in 1998. After finishing high school in Hatsukaichi, he served as an apprentice in his uncle’s barber shop and then took the qualifying exam. “The examiner told me my father had been kind to him, and he gave me words of encouragement, so I was able to pass the exam through I was only a novice.” At the age of 60, Mr. Hamai retired from working as a barber. Today he is an insurance agent and enjoys meeting people through this job.

“My aunt often says that I take after my father,” said Mr. Hamai. “He enjoyed treating people to sake. He never taught me these things directly, but I must have picked them up from the way he acted.”

“My uncle raised me with affection, as if I were his own child,” he went on. “So I wasn’t unhappy.” Enough time has passed for Mr. Hamai to reflect on his life without remorse.

Mr. Hamai’s residence is registered at the permanent address of 33-1 Nakajima-cho. His two sons have their own families now, but they are still registered at the same permanent address.

(Originally published on July 31, 1999)