NAGASAKI — Yoshitoshi Fukahori felt compelled to share his painful memories of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki with others, so three decades ago he started collecting and systematically organizing photographs of the devastation from the blast.
“Photographs don’t lie,” said the 80-year-old Fukahori, who chairs the Committee for Research of Photographs and Materials of the Atomic Bombing.
“If you want to convey the agony and suffering brought about by the (atomic) bombing, photographs speak more than a thousand words. . . . That’s why I’m intrigued by this work,” he said.
The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and another one on Nagasaki three days later. The eventual death toll in Hiroshima is estimated at 140,000 and in Nagasaki at more than 70,000.
Fukahori founded the committee in 1979 with five other people after discovering that there were hardly any formal collections of photos showing the aftermath in Nagasaki. The few pictures that were available were not well-organized, as most provided no clues about who took them or when and where they were taken.
Fukahori, who was working as a medical administrator at a Nagasaki hospital, and his colleagues on the committee asked people in the community to help them gather photos related to the bombing.
The idea received a positive response and photos have been slowly but steadily passed to the committee.
One major contributor was Tsutomu Iwakura, who gave the committee around 600 photos. Iwakura later played a key role in the 10-Feet Movement, a citizens’ campaign that retrieved 100,000 feet of film footage on the two bombings from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
“We cheered when we first saw that pile of 600 photos but soon realized the importance of our work, which is to preserve historical data for later generations,” Fukahori recalled.
At Iwakura’s recommendation, the committee created a database in which it now stores the 3,000 photos in its possession.
Fukahori believes there are still undiscovered A-bomb photos, perhaps buried in family albums or in other places in Japan or abroad.
Referring to U.S. Marine Joe O’Donnell, who photographed the devastation in Nagasaki shortly after the end of the war, Fukahori said, “If one marine took that many pictures . . . there must be a lot more photos because about 25,000 troops were stationed (in and around the city).”
Fukahori, 16 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped, was working at a railway station approximately 3.5 km from ground zero.
He was not seriously injured by the blast and rushed to a university hospital in search of his family. There he found an overwhelming number of people in agony.
“They begged, ‘Young boy, please give me water,’ ” Fukahori said. “I went back and forth several times between the hospital and a nearby river and gave them water using a broken bottle. It seemed an endless task and I eventually had to shove people aside to leave the scene.”
It turned out that his parents had been evacuated to a safe location outside the city, but his older sister was killed at their uncle’s home less than 1 km from the blast point.
“My mother and I had to cremate her, and that is the most painful moment of my life,” he said.
“Since then, I’ve always felt the need to speak about how people suffer from an atomic bombing. I will continue with this work as long as I can because I am the only original member left” on the photo committee.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.