On an early midsummer morning, from a clear, pure blue sky, a single bomb was dropped.
In an instant, the town was transformed into a sea of fire and lost everything.
It seems my grandmother used to have many more scars apart from the large scar on her left leg. But now, they seem to have become indistinguishable from her wrinkles. As long as one doesn’t see her left leg, perhaps no one would even know that she is a hibakusha, a survivor of that bombing.
However even now, there are people who bear illnesses and health problems due to the effects of the atomic bombs, and there are people who have faced discrimination regarding marriages and employment. And despite being told many times over that the inheritance of A-bomb-related illnesses cannot be medically proven, we descendants of the hibakusha still feel trapped by an obscure unease. All of those are the memories of Hiroshima, and so are the histories of our families and my grandmother, all of which must be recorded to tell all nations about the horrors of nuclear weapons.
Suppressing the pain and the anguish that comes with recollecting those memories, my grandmother talked about those memories for me and for future generations. With all my love and respect for her, I will bequeath this book for the generations who are yet to come. Lest we forget the wounds borne and the pain in the hearts that hibakusha have endured.
At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945 (Showa 20), an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima for the first time in human history.
Forty-three seconds after the bomb was dropped, it exploded in a blinding flash of light 600 meters above the ground, creating a scorching fireball that could be called a miniature sun. The temperature at the center of the fireball exceeded 1 million degrees Celsius, and one second later it was over 200 meters in radius, with the temperature on the ground surface around the hypocenter reaching 3,000 to 4,000 degrees Celsius.
At the moment of the explosion, intense heat rays and radiation were emitted in all directions, and the surrounding air expanded to form a super high-pressure blast.
The characteristics of the damage caused by the atomic bombs are that mass destruction and mass murder occurred instantaneously and indiscriminately, and that people suffered from radiation damage for a long period of time afterward.
Her house was only 1.2 km away from the point of the bombing, so the damage was extensive. When she came to, her house had collapsed and was on fire. She was severely injured, but thanks to being on the second floor, she was able to survive without being trapped under the house. Her father, who was in the bathroom on the first floor, was unhurt thanks to the sturdy structure of the bathroom.
For this image, I created a portrait of my young grandmother, bathed in falling glass and fire sparks.
Severely injured, my grandmother and her family took refuge in the Japanese garden behind the house where the temporary relief station was located. The place was already filled with so many injured and dead that it looked like a hellscape. As she fled, a neighbor tended to a serious wound on her left leg, but she was so desperate to escape that she felt no pain at all.
She received serious medical treatment at this evacuation site, but the bandage that had been applied to the wound was so firmly attached that she felt tremendous pain at first when it was removed.
This photo shows the pond in the garden, which still remains today. The garden is beautiful and attracts many tourists, but it is also the place where many A-bomb survivors died. Many of their remains are still buried in the ground.
The building in the center of the photo is the Atomic Bomb Dome, a symbol of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima that still stands today.
My grandmother, who had countless pieces of glass stuck in her body, said that she and her relative’s daughters, who also had glass stuck in their bodies, used tweezers to remove each other’s glass. It was easy to pull out the large ones, although it was painful, but they could not remove all the small ones.
Even now, when she touches her fingers or other parts of her body, she can tell that something is still inside her.
My grandmother had to spend two years recuperating from her wounds. Speaking of the effects of the bombing on her, about two months after the bombing, she suddenly developed a high fever and pus came out of her gums.
On the recommendation of a friend’s father, she began working for the Hiroshima Prefectural Government. After a while, she was chosen to be the secretary to the governor, but the important work was done by the male secretary, and she did nothing but chores such as fetching tea. She was so beautiful that she was once scouted as a movie actress.
This image is a portrait work that reflects the psychology of my grandmother, who suffered from the aftereffects of the atomic bombing but lived strongly.
No one who knows nothing about it would be able to tell that my grandmother was an A-bomb survivor. However, her left leg still bears a large scar. It is easy to understand that after the war, she was hesitant to let people see the scar.
It seems that she had other scars, but as she aged, it became difficult to distinguish them from the wrinkles and scars, and this scar is the only one that is recognizable.
In Japan, origami cranes are considered a symbol of peace. It originated with a young girl, an atomic bomb survivor in Hiroshima, who continued to fold paper cranes until her death, hoping for her own recovery. Even today, there is a custom in Japan to fold and present 1,000 paper cranes whenever a war breaks out somewhere in the world or a loved one is hospitalized.
My grandmother, who was secretary to the prefectural governor, was shortly afterwards arranged to marry my grandfather, who worked for the Japanese National Railways. My grandmother, who was proud of her job as a secretary, once refused to marry my grandfather, who asked her to quit her job and devote herself to housework, but she did as she was encouraged by others.
At the time, there was some discrimination against marrying an A-bomb survivor, but my grandfather never once bothered to mention it, and now my grandmother says she is glad she married him.
In this picture, standing in front of them are my father and my aunt.
My grandmother, now 95 years old, has a good memory and is in good health. There are many A-bomb storytellers in Hiroshima, and I grew up hearing many A-bomb experiences from a young age.
Of course I knew that my grandmother was an A-bomb survivor, but she has never told anyone in her family about her experience. It is not hard to imagine why she would not want to talk about it, but I felt that I really needed to hear her experience.
Listening to her story, I realized that through various miracles, she survived and was connected to who I am. This work is not only one woman’s experience of the atomic bombing, but also my family’s story.
— Yoshikatsu Fujii
Editor’s Note: We first discovered Yoshikatsu Fujii’s remarkable visual storytelling while visiting the Reminder’s Photography Stronghold workshop and bookshop in Tokyo. Yoshikatsu was among the 2016 Emerging Talents, and we published a review of his book, Red String, several years ago. We were delighted to find this current project among the winners of the 2022 Critics’ Choice Awards.