Q & A about Hiroshima

(47)Is it true that human beings vanished in the bomb's heat?


Did people near the hypocenter really just disappear due to the bomb's heat rays?


Remains would surely be left behind

In Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a large stone, partly blackened with what looks like a shadow, is on display. The stone was part of the steps at the entrance to the Hiroshima branch of Sumitomo Bank, about 260 meters from the hypocenter. It is labeled with the words "Human Shadow Etched in Stone."

The temperature at the surface of the ground rose to 3,000-4,000 degrees

Yoshinori Oobayashi, 80, who serves as a volunteer guide at the museum, sometimes speaks to children on school trips who believe that, when the bomb exploded, the people in the hypocenter area just disappeared, leaving behind only their shadows.

According to a report on the damage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, published in 1979, after the bomb exploded, a huge fireball of about 300,000 degrees was formed. Within three seconds, the temperature of the surface of the ground is thought to have reached 3,000-4,000 degrees. In such conditions, is it possible that human beings could simply vanish?

Stone steps partly blackened by a "human shadow." (Photo by Yoshito Matsushige, around the end of 1946)

I posed this question to Dr. Minako Otani, professor emeritus at Hiroshima University and a specialist in emergency and intensive care treatment. She refuted the idea, though, contending that it would be impossible for the human body to instantly disappear as a result of the bomb's heat rays.

"I can't identify how deeply the heat went into the body," she told us, "but even if the whole body was burnt, carbonized tissue or bones would remain."

She added that radiation can cause burn-like effects on the skin--in the worst cases, the dead tissue forms ulcers--but it would be impossible to completely incinerate the human body.

Human shadow blackened the stone

On the other hand, in another report on the bomb's destruction of Hiroshima, published in 1971, I came across this sentence: "Within a radius of 500 meters from the hypocenter, people almost vanished on the spot."

However, Masaharu Hoshi, a professor at the Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine at Hiroshima University, denied that the person who left behind the "Human Shadow Etched in Stone" had simply disappeared. "The human body is composed of carbon atoms," he said. "It can't vanish in high temperatures because ashes are bound to remain."

Again, the possibility of "disappearance" was rejected.

According to Peace Memorial Museum, the surface of "Human Shadow Etched in Stone" was lightened by the heat except for the "shadow" part. It is believed that the person sitting on the stone steps and waiting for the bank to open blocked the heat and, as a result, the darker part where his shadow fell left the stone looking blackened.

Professor Hoshi explained that if a person's body was completely carbonized to the bone, it might be possible for the carbonized body to be broken into bits by the blast and so disappear in that sense. "It's more realistic to think some carbonized bodies were blown away by the blast than the idea that they were completely incinerated and disappeared," he said.

As for victims near the hypocenter, many left no remains that could be found, not even their bones. Under such circumstances, the idea that they "disappeared" in the bombing may have spread. (Toshiko Bajo, Staff Writer)