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Patrons recall Hiroshima beer hall that survived A-bombing to bring relief to survivors

Kyodo

Hiroshima Parco, a commercial facility popular with young people that’s located in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward, has some old tiles embedded in its walls. Few people know that the tiles used to be a part of an outer wall of a popular beer parlor that survived the 1945 atomic bombing.

The Kirin Beer Hall, which opened in 1938, continued operation even during World War II. People visited the glass-covered modern three-story building after work to relax.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the atomic bomb detonated about 670 meters from the parlor and destroyed almost everything in the neighborhood, but the ferroconcrete parlor building remained.

Masanori Kato, 89, who lived nearby at the time, recalls that after the bombing he returned from a factory in the suburbs, where he worked as a student, and found that his house was gone and his parents and grandmother were missing. Wanting to at least gather their remains, Kato took a hoe and looked for his family under the scorching heat of the sun. The beer parlor was a good place for him to rest.

Gradually, people who were searching for clues to missing family members gathered to encourage one another, and some brought rice to make rice balls. Later Kato found the bodies of his family members. “Everyone was going through the same hardships, and (the parlor building) became the only place to gather for the completely ruined community,” he said.

The parlor reopened in December of the same year at a makeshift store, and the original building was restored the following year.

Kaiso Akamatsu, 90, took over the drugstore business from his father, who died in the atomic blast, and opened a store nearby. He said he frequently visited the beer parlor with friends.

“The town was filled with people who lost their families in the blast. We could forget our painful memories only when we were drinking beer,” said Akamatsu. People looked cheerful as they drank pale-colored beer and ate boiled edamame, talking about the professional baseball games that were launched after the war. In the 1960s, more than 200 stores were built in the area, with the beer parlor creating a lively scene at its center.

In 1991, the parlor ended 53 years of history when the building was razed during redevelopment of the area. But some of its tiles were kept for the walls of the newly built shopping complex.

Standing besides the wall and rubbing the tiles gently with his hand, Akamatsu said he still drinks with his family on weekends. “The beer at the time tasted bitter. The beer I drink now tastes so much better,” he said.