Memories of Nakajima Honmachi, Part 6

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

Sisters at the site of their birth

The house where the sisters were born stood in Nakajima Honmachi. It was on the same street as today’s Rest House, an A-bombed building found in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Their parents sold wigs and cosmetics at a store called “Hatsukaichiya.”

The sisters’ original family name is Kihara. The elder sister, Etsuko Isobe, 72, recalls the brisk business that took place in the Nakajima district. “My parents’ shop was open until 10 or 11 p.m.,” she said. “The street lamps were shaped like lily-of-the-valley flowers.”

But her younger sister, Midori Takamatsu, 66, remembers a different atmosphere in the area, due their difference in age: “It was deserted except during the ‘Ebisuko’ festival.” (The Ebisuko festival is held in honor of Ebisu, the God of Commerce, to pray for good business.)

For the coronation of former Emperor Hirohito in 1931, the lily-of-the-valley lamps were converted into an arch shape of shining steel. However, when war broke out with the U.S. in 1941, the lamps had to be donated to the military as scrap metal. Moreover, because houses in the district had to be dismantled, people were forced away from the area.

The Japanese government’s order to dismantle houses in Hiroshima came in November 1944. As many as 133 areas in Hiroshima were affected by this order. The purpose of this work was aimed at protecting “key facilities,” such as local government offices, and creating fire lanes to prevent conflagration in the case of incendiary bombing. Buildings located in the area of the “Hatsukaichiya” shop were targeted for dismantling.

“This is because they wanted to protect the old Fuel Hall,” said Ms. Isobe. The three-story reinforced concrete building, now the Rest House designed for tourists, housed government-controlled corporations, including the Fuel Rationing Control Union of Hiroshima Prefecture. As a result, the Kihara family was forced to move from Nakajima Hondori to nearby Jisenji-no-hana.

In April 1945, Ms. Takamatsu, who was a sixth grader at Nakajima Elementary School at the time, was evacuated to Kozenji Temple in the northern part of Hiroshima Prefecture. Ms. Isobe was 18 and working at a machinery plant on the morning of August 6. Their father Shinichi, 48, and mother Masako, 42, along with two younger brothers, Hiroshi, 4, and Minoru, 1, had stayed at home.

More than 50 years passed before the sisters were able to speak frankly about the atomic bombing. “We took a trip to Beppu, Oita, and that’s when I finally heard the details of how they died,” said Ms. Takamatsu. Up to that point she had avoided talking about it, even with her sister, who had interred their parents’ ashes. At the same time, Ms. Isobe shunted her memories of the bombing to the back of her mind. “I didn’t want to talk about it,” she said.

After experiencing the blast at her workplace, Ms. Isobe headed toward the prefectural government office, 900 meters from the hypocenter, then went down to the Motoyasu River and walked along the riverbank. She managed to climb up to Jisenji-no-hana from the base of the Aioi Bridge, but was unable to go further, sinking to the ground where others had fallen.

“I was more dazed than scared,” she explained. “I was just looking around and thinking how everything was on fire.” From Honkawa Elementary School, to the west, she heard a girl cry out: “Grandpa, please help me!” She also heard moans from every direction but did not know who they were or even what time of day it was. At one point, she was given a hard biscuit and ate it. Finally, she fell asleep and then woke to morning.

An older brother, who had been called into wartime service, returned to pick up Ms. Takamatsu from her evacuation site around the end of September. To overcome her sorrows, she buried the memories of her experience. “I had no clear memories of those days,” she said. As an elementary school teacher, she did not try to share her experience with her students.

“I think what’s important is understanding the pain of the people around us and appreciating the worth of each other’s lives,” Ms. Takamatsu said. Her opinion is somewhat different from supporters of “peace education” and the “peace movement” who believe that A-bomb survivors should play an active role in communicating their experiences of the atomic bombing.

“I can’t say that I don’t feel some nostalgia, but I don’t want to spend time here,” Ms. Takamatsu, whose sister agreed with her sentiment. It was the first time they had been back to visit the site of their old home in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

(Originally published on August 2, 1999)