Silent Witness

Silent Witness: Memories of 145 A-bombed artifacts

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Daily life of large family is lost in the atomic bombing

At the ruins of his burnt home, located 470 meters from the hypocenter, Toshio Honda, who was 36 at the time of the atomic bombing, picked up items that included dishes, rice bowls, roof tiles, and a cracked Buddhist statue. Five members of his family were killed there when the atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima. Mr. Honda was gathering things which could connect him to the memory of the world he had suddenly lost. Up until the time he donated 145 items to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum later in his life, in 1995, he had carefully preserved everything he had collected.

The storage room in the museum holds these various A-bombed artifacts, such as rice bowls embedded with rubble and melted glass, and a pile of dishes that have been fused together, which apparently were hit directly by the bomb’s heat rays. These are among the things that Mr. Honda, who died in 1998 at the age of 88, dug out from the burnt wreckage of his home.

The items Mr. Honda gathered up are traces of the life he once lived with the other members of his family as they sat around the dining table and engaged in family matters. At the time of the bombing, he lived with seven others including his elder brother, elder sister, and the members of their family. The family ran a shop in Otemachi (now part of Naka Ward) which sold local products. In the summer, shaved ice was a popular item. They also sold ice cream on streetcars. In winter, their shop sold dried persimmons, which hung in rows from the roof of their western-style building and caught of eye of people passing by.

Mr. Honda lost everything as a result of the atomic bombing. Though he managed to survive the attack, because he was inside Hiroshima Station, five family members were killed, including Tsuruzo, his oldest brother, and Shige, his second oldest sister, who were at home at the time. He found their bodies in the wreckage of the house, and cremated them on his own. Then he carefully gathered up the things he found, including a broken teacup, a fractured roof tile, and even the handle of a cup. Mr. Honda then constructed a shack at the site where his home once stood and restarted his business by establishing a shop at a hospital. Throughout this time of poverty, and even after he was able to rebuild a new house on that site, he held onto his artifacts from the bombing.

Kazuko Ishii, 75, is Mr. Honda’s daughter. She was two back then and had been evacuated to the countryside with her mother, Mineko (who died last year at the age of 96). Ms. Ishii said, “My father didn’t tell me anything about that time. I guess he didn’t want to recall what happened.” On the 50th anniversary of the bombing, Mr. Honda discussed the A-bombed artifacts with his family and decided that the items should be made available for the public. So they chose to keep some things and donated the rest of them to the museum.

I remember the day I visited Mr. Honda’s home, just before he made this donation to the museum. I was an inexperienced writer who had recently joined this newspaper company. He then showed me the artifacts that were densely packed together in four cardboard boxes. He told me, “I tried to throw them away many times, but when I thought about the despair of the people who lost their lives here, I just couldn’t do it.” His solemn words still linger in my mind.

(Originally published on April 2, 2018)