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Shoichi Shimoe when 4 years old
Precious Pictures - Thinking of My Family
Shoichi Shimoe (male, 73 years old)
Mihara City, Hiroshima Prefecture
By Yuji Higashi (male)
Shoichi Shimoe (Enichi-cho 2-chome, Mihara City) beside a photo of Shukkeien, which he submitted to the Mihara culture association art exhibition.
His mother Chieko
His father Kazuo
His younger sister, Toshie
Photography is the hobby of Shoichi Shimoe (Myojin 3-chome, Mihara) and he now teaches photography at a community center. Exposed to the A-bomb at the age of four, he escaped by walking to Iwakuni City in Yamaguchi Prefecture, then to Mihara City. I heard about Mr. Shimoe through other people, and asked him to talk about his experience.
Mr. Shimoe has three photographs that are very precious to him: one each of his father, his mother, and his younger sister. They all died as a result of the A-bomb, and these are the only portraits he has of them; his father Kazuo in his military uniform, his mother Chieko in her wedding gown, and his sister, Toshie, who was then just one year old. On the back of the photograph of his sister, it says that the picture was taken on her first birthday.
* * *
Shoichi Shimoe's house was located in Higashi-Hakushima-cho, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, about 1.5 kilometers [1 mile] from the hypocenter. As usual, he saw his father off to work and then walked to his kindergarten, which was about ten minutes from his home. It happened when he was talking to a female teacher inside the kindergarten. Suddenly everything became white, followed by complete darkness, and then he was blown away. When he regained consciousness, he realized that there was a thick beam from the ceiling lying right next to his body. His face was entirely covered in dirt that had fallen from the roof, and which was also inside his mouth. He rolled over and stretched out his arm, and his teacher grabbed it and pulled him out of the dirt. There were pieces of broken glass all over the teacher's face, which was bleeding profusely. He was frightened and wanted to go home, so he ran outside crying.
Outside the kindergarten, there were collapsed wooden houses everywhere, and a lot of people writhing and groaning in pain. Shoichi became frightened again and so went back to the kindergarten.
"Sho-chan, Sho-chan, let's go together!" He heard someone call out to him when he was walking on the rubble in front of the kindergarten. It was his friend's mother. She fled with him to the riverside. By night time, they reached a farm house in a suburb, and spent a few days there.
* * *
After that, Shoichi moved to a place that was like an orphanage. After a while, a relative came to visit. His friend's father had put up a sign where Shoichi's house used to be, so his relative was able to find out where he was. Shoichi then moved to his mother's parents' house in Iwakuni City.
A few months later, Shoichi's grandmother took him to a different relative's place in Mihara City. They headed to Mihara on foot, and sometimes his grandmother carried him on her back. He remembers staying a few times at places like Japanese inns. There he exchanged sugar that he had brought with him for rice, which they cooked and he ate as rice balls.
Thus Shoichi's life in Mihara began. He often listened to the NHK radio program "Missing Persons," hoping that his family was looking for him and that he would hear his name called out on the radio. He heard about military people who had been exposed to the A-bomb losing their hair. He grew worried that someday he might also lose his hair.
His father was probably exposed to the A-bomb at work, and his mother and his sister at home, but to this day he doesn't know for sure. There are no remains of anyone in his family. Thinking that their remains might be in the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where the remains of unclaimed A-bomb victims are buried, ever since he was old enough he has visited there every year on August 6.
* * *
After graduating from junior high school, he started making his living by working as a projectionist and a signboard artist. When he turned twenty, he visited the Hakushima area, but the town had completely changed, leaving hardly any trace of the past.
With his first salary, he bought a second-hand camera at a pawn shop. Later, he submitted some of his work to the Mihara art exhibition. He received an encouragement award and began to approach photography seriously.
Twenty years ago, he entered a work in a national contest. The work combined three images using the A-bomb Dome as a photographic subject. It juxtaposed the dome with an artist, some tourists and a couple sitting on a bench, and a boat floating on the river. The review said, "It is not depicted as a problem but as a matter-of-fact." He was awarded the silver prize.
"I miraculously survived and managed to live, get married and have children," he said. "However, if there had been no A-bomb, I would have lived happily with my parents and my sister, and I would have had a totally different life. Mankind and nuclear energy cannot coexist. There should be no A-bombs and no nuclear power plants."
* Originally published in Japanese in the series "聞きたかったこと [So tell me. . . about Hiroshima]," The Asahi Shimbun (Hiroshima morning edition), March 12, 2014.