How to send messages from Hiroshima as city marks 74th year since A-bombing, Part 2

Part 2: Renewed main building of Peace Memorial Museum

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, located in Naka Ward, has undergone extensive renovations and the renewed exhibition space of the museum’s main building reopened in April. In the first section, “Devastation on August 6,” scorched school uniforms and a child’s water bottle are displayed inside a large glass case under low lighting. Visitors are able to view the personal belongings of 23 students who were mobilized to work for the war effort, helping to tear down houses to create a fire lane in the city center, and were killed when the city was attacked with the atomic bomb.

Materials prepared by a volunteer

In mid-July, Yasushi Saeki, 79, a resident of Asaminami Ward who works as a “peace volunteer” at the museum, shared some background behind each family connected to these personal belongings, making use of materials he had prepared himself. He said, “Amid the shortage of supplies during the war, one mother added fabric to a pair of shorts and made long pants for this school uniform.” Shoko Hatakeyama, 62, a housewife from the city of Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, gazed at the school uniform and said, “I learned about what the family members of the A-bomb victims were thinking back then and this moved me even more deeply.”

An advisory committee of experts studied the renewal of the exhibits for about eight and a half years. They decided to make use of authentic artifacts, including the belongings of A-bomb victims, so that visitors to the museum will focus more keenly on these items. The museum has limited the amount of explanation, through text, so that visitors can feel the devastation wrought by the atomic bombing more deeply, and created subdued lighting for the space to encourage visitors to concentrate on the items. After the main building reopened, the average number of visitors each day was over 6,000, an increase of 30 percent over the same period from the previous year. The museum has attracted considerable attention and this has drawn many international visitors, too.

All the more because of this, Mr. Saeki admits to feeling some frustration. In the “Devastation on August 6” section, the belongings of the mobilized students are intentionally displayed in a way that conveys the chaos of that time so that visitors can imagine the conditions in the city in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. Photographs are displayed together by the glass case, and text with explanation of each individual has been deliberately avoided. The audio guide that visitors to the museum can rent offers explanation about only three of the students.

Mr. Saeki said, “I don’t want visitors to go past the belongings of the mobilized students and consider them just A-bombed clothes.” There is also a bag that a student’s sister created from the cloth of her mother’s kimono, and an item from a student whose remains were never found. Why did the victims’ families donate their belongings to the museum? Working with other volunteers, Mr. Saeki gathered information about episodes connected to these belongings in order to convey the thoughts of the bereaved families. He said, “I want the museum to make it easy for visitors to at least understand whose belongings they are.”

Yoshio Takeuchi, 70, a former high school teacher and resident of Tachikawa, Tokyo Prefecture, agrees with Mr. Saeki’s point of view, also in relation to a newly installed section that provides information about people of other nationalities who also experienced the atomic bombing. For more than 30 years, he has been visiting Hiroshima, mainly with students on school trips. Reflecting on their reactions in the museum, he said, “When individuals are identified by name, this produces the power that can touch people’s hearts.”

This section features photographs that include Kwak Kwi Hoon, honorary president of the South Korean Atomic Bomb Sufferers Association, German priests, and a Russian family that ran a clothing shop. Mr. Takeuchi said, “Many people think that only Japanese nationals fell victim to the atomic bomb, so pointing out that there were non-Japanese victims of the bombing, and presenting their names and photos, is very important.”

At the same time, Mr. Takeuchi advised that the question of why these people were in Hiroshima be addressed. He cited the facts, including the fact that Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula until the war ended, and noted that “Some themes are hard to handle, but I hope that discussion will deepen through more detailed displays.”

The museum has indicated that it will seek to establish an external advisory board in the future to aid in its management. Shuichi Kato, the head of the museum’s curatorial division, said, “With regard to emerging issues, we plan to have open discussions and deal with any difficulties.” With the A-bomb survivors, who know the reality of the atomic bombing, advancing in age, the exhibits will be continually reviewed.


Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
The main building of the museum opened in 1955, and the east building opened in 1994. In March 2014, the City of Hiroshima began full-scale renovations of the main building, a nationally-designated important cultural property, with a view to better conveying the devastation caused by the atomic bombing and the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons as well as making the museum earthquake resistant. The east building was closed in September 2014 to renovate the exhibition space and it reopened in April 2017. Then the main building was closed for interior renovations and quakeproofing. The seismic reinforcement work will be completed by the end of fiscal 2019. The number of visitors to the museum in fiscal 2018 totaled 1,522,453. The number of international visitors reached 434,838, breaking the record for six consecutive years.

(Originally published on July 26, 2019)