Cup used for daily water offerings at Buddhist altar and dead son’s undergarment to be displayed at Peace Memorial Museum from March 26

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

Artifacts convey mother’s grief about her son’s death in A-bombing

Hiroo Taoda was two years old when he was killed in the atomic bombing. To comfort his soul, his mother, Ren Taoda, used to offer a glass cup filled with water at their family Buddhist altar every day before she died in 2009 at age 94. She was mourning the loss of her second child, Hiroo, who had died begging for water. The cup Ren used in this way was donated to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, located in the city’s Naka Ward. In an exhibit of newly donated items set to open on March 26, the museum will display the glass cup along with Hiroo’s undergarment, already in the museum’s possession, for the first time. The museum hopes the items convey the feelings of parents who lost children in the atomic bombing.

On August 6, 1945, after visiting her husband who had been hospitalized in the city of Kure, Ren and her son were on their way back home to Senda-machi (now part of Naka Ward). With Hiroo on her back, she had intended to transfer to a streetcar at the Hiroshima train station when the bomb exploded. The station (now in Minami Ward) was about 1.9 kilometers from the hypocenter. They both suffered severe burns from the thermal rays caused by the explosion that occurred behind them.

Hiroo had almost never become cranky or cried, but at a first-aid station, he began to beg for water in a feeble voice as he grew weaker. “I want water. Water.” But Ren could not let him drink because she had been told that drinking water would kill him. Her son died that evening, August 6.

“My mother felt a sense of guilt her entire life. She used to say she should’ve given him water before he died,’” said Matsuko Hasebe, 82, Ren’s oldest daughter. According to Ms. Hasebe, a resident of the city of Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, her mother would offer water at the altar in her house in Senda-machi without missing a single day. Ren used to say, “He was a wonderful child.” Even in her 90s, she would lament, “I’m tormented because I cannot forget.”

Ren had held onto Hiroo’s bloodstained undergarment before she donated it to the museum in 2005. When the museum reopened after renovations in April 2019, the underwear was put on permanent display. As many people came to learn about Hiroo’s death in the atomic bombing, Ms. Hasebe donated the glass cup in August of the same year, 2019, hoping that many people could learn of her mother’s feelings. The glass cup was a gift to Ren from a grandchild, and she used it for nearly 15 years before she died.

It is uncommon for a victim’s personal items from immediately after the bombing to be displayed together with items imbued with feelings of bereaved families after the war. As A-bomb survivors continue to age, dealing with the issue of how to convey the feelings of parents who lost children in the bombing is an increasingly important issue. The museum said in a statement, “We hope that visitors will see the undergarment and glass cup together and sense the parents’ feelings.”

(Originally published on March 23, 2021)