Memories of Nakajima Honmachi, Part 5

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

Wartime photo studio captured the lives and deaths of soldiers

The neighborhood provided children with memorable times in every season. In summer, they swam in the Motoyasu River and Honkawa River until they were completely tanned and received pencils as a reward for perfect attendance at early morning exercises held on the grounds of Jisenji Temple. In autumn, they caught candy thrown to them at one festival and coins and cakes at another.

Hisashi Takahashi reminisced about these childhood memories as we made our way to the former site of Takahashi Photo Studio at 35 Nakajima Honmachi. “Dry plates were used instead of film,” he explained. “Photos were developed on them and then the subject’s facial features were retouched. After printing, I carefully washed the printed paper with water and cut each picture apart. It was laborious work.”

His parents worked hard every day, taking commemorative photos for the birth of children, school enrollment, and family reunions. His father set up the studio in the 1920s and his mother dressed the subjects. The studio grew to include four locations.

Clouds of war hung over the photo studio, which came to record the departures during the war effort. Toward the end of 1941, the year Mr. Takahashi entered the high school attached to Hiroshima Higher School of Education, the Japanese navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Soldiers leaving for the front sat for pictures for their loved ones. Soon, the studio grew busy enlarging such pictures to create “portraits of the dead” of lost sons and husbands.

“We could only carry on,” said Mr. Takahashi. “We couldn’t afford to worry about winning or losing the war.” Instead of spending his days at a desk in school, he worked as a mobilized student, standing before a factory lathe. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the naval academy on the island of Etajima in Hiroshima Prefecture. His was the 77th and last class to enroll.

On the day the students entered the academy, Mr. Takahashi was on the second floor when he saw a bluish flash followed by an enormous cloud rising beyond the mountains. Days later, they listened reverently to the radio broadcast of Emperor Showa announcing Japan’s surrender.

At war’s end, Mr. Takahashi and six other students rowed a cutter to the island where his grandfather lived. There they heard again that “Hiroshima has been completely destroyed.”

He located the remains of his mother Yoshiko, 40, in the burnt ruins of their home. He was able to identify her from the gold filling in her teeth. But he found no trace of his father Osamu, 43, and his younger brother Chikara, 12, a first-year student at the Municipal Shipbuilding High School (now Hiroshima Municipal Commercial High School).

Mr. Takahashi’s father, who provided support to the police force, went to the police station along the Honkawa River that morning, as he did whenever an air raid warning sounded. And all 194 first-year students of his brother’s school were engaged in dismantling buildings to create firebreaks and died in the blast.

“I was left all alone, but I wasn’t the only who suffered that fate,” Mr. Takahashi said, calmly describing his feelings of the time. “Rather than grieve, I resigned myself to the situation.”

His aunt, who helped him search for the remains of his family, took him in. After graduating from Hiroshima University, he studied in the United States as a Fulbright Scholar. Upon his return, he taught at a night school and then began teaching at his alma mater, Hiroshima University. Seven years ago, after retiring as a professor there, he joined the faculty of Hijiyama University as a teacher of English, his specialty.

Mr. Takahashi refrains from sharing his experience of the bombing with students. “Considering the great number of war victims throughout the world, I hesitate to single out the atomic bombings,” he said. “And I don’t think students would be interested.” He feels that the war and the bombings have become events of the distant past to the young people he comes into contact with on campus.

On the list of unclaimed remains that were placed in the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, there is one name with the same pronunciation as his father’s. The name, however, is written with a different Chinese character. Mr. Takahashi once asked about the name at city hall, but “it seems to be a different person.”

West of the former site of Takahashi Photo Studio stands the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, holding the remains of 849 victims unclaimed by relatives as well as 70,000 unidentified remains. Mr. Takahashi regularly visits the spot to pay his respect to the victims.

(Originally published on August 1, 1999)