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Solemn Peace Park belies trove of buried A-bomb artifacts

by Miho Kuwajima

Chugoku Shimbun

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, located in Naka Ward, was full of international visitors during the New Year’s holiday. Some were from America and Europe, others were Chinese speakers and women from Islamic nations could also be seen. People stood in line to pray before the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims as if they were paying a visit to a shrine on New Year’s Day. This has become a typical scene since the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum began the practice of opening its doors on Jan. 1, 2013.

The number of visitors to the A-bombed city, particularly from abroad, is steadily increasing. In the museum, they learn about the catastrophic damage to the city wrought by the atomic bomb. In the park, designated as a place of national scenic beauty, they tour the monuments and other memorial sites.

How many of these visitors, though, actually reflect on the fact that the obliterated part of town now beneath their feet was once the bustling commercial district called Nakajima?

On Aug. 6, 1945, one single bomb annihilated this area and its roughly 4,400 residents. Over the years, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum has received many items that convey fragmented memories of the former district. Marked by the bomb’s blast, many of these objects were picked up in the ruins by loved ones of the victims in the aftermath of the bombing. Others were unearthed from beneath the park during work to improve the grounds and its facilities, with many vestiges of that time and era still waiting to be found.

Most of the A-bombed artifacts are held in storage and are not displayed in the museum. However, the story that accompanies each one relates the city’s history of horror and rebirth. A trove of artifacts still lies buried beneath the park’s grounds.

When the city of Hiroshima was pursuing excavation work in 2015, prior to the start of seismic reinforcement work on the museum, a great number of A-bombed items were found.

In the area known as Zaimoku-cho, many milk bottles, melted and deformed, were unearthed at the spot where a milk delivery business once stood. A lot of household items, including a charred rice paddle and a burned triangle ruler, were also dug out of the ground, reminders of the daily lives that were led before the bombing. Some have been put on display in the museum since last year, and they will eventually join the other items in storage.

Last November, a citizens’ group held a meeting to discuss how best to preserve A-bombed artifacts that remain buried beneath the park. One man, who spent his early childhood in the Nakajima district, said that he often feels the impulse to ask park visitors to walk quietly through this area because the ground still contains many victims at rest. However, with the passing of generations, it is becoming more difficult to hand down detailed memories of the former district, even for those families with direct links to the area.

This is why people must turn our thoughts to the lost history of the park, which now serves as a hub for sending out messages of peace. This year the Chuguku Shimbun will shed light on items that are stored, but not displayed, at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. To start, we will introduce four artifacts from the Nakajima district.

The history of the Nakajima district is believed to extend back to the end of the 16th century, when a castle town was established in Hiroshima. This was delta land that lies between today’s Motoyasu River and the Honkawa River. The area flourished, in particular, from the end of the Edo Period to the early Showa Era (from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century).

The area where the Peace Memorial Park is, along with land south of the park, are where the neighborhoods known as Nakajima-honmachi, Zaimoku-cho, Tenjin-machi, Motoyanagi-cho and Kobiki-cho once existed. There were many houses, businesses, temples, inns and hospitals standing side by side prior to the attack.

This area was almost directly underneath the bomb when it exploded. Shacks erected after the war occupied parts of the district for a time. But that changed when park construction began on 12.21 hectares of land in the former Nakajima district and the area around the A-bomb Dome in accordance with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Reconstruction Law, enacted on Aug. 6, 1949.

The Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims was completed in 1952, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum opened in 1955. When the A-bomb Dome was registered as a World Heritage site in 1996, the Peace Memorial Park became part of a protected zone. Then, in 2007, the park was designated a place of national scenic beauty.

This new monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on Jan. 8.