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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

Notes from Nagasaki
The Cremation of Two Young Girls in Their Best Kimonos
Hiroshi Matsuzoe(male, born 1930)
By Sei Ito (male, born 1971)

photo Hiroshi Matsuzoe photo "Girls in Kimonos" Ms.Matsuzoe wanted to make this into a painting some day.

I wrote the following article in the local Nagasaki section of the Asahi Shinbun newspaper on August 9, 2008.

* * *

[In prayer for the souls of girls who died of exposure to the A-bomb, a 106-year-old mother folds paper cranes. The cranes were placed at statues of the girls in kimonos.]

Six paper cranes were delivered to the statues of two girls who were cremated dressed in their best kimonos. Both girls had died from exposure to the A-bomb. The paper cranes were folded by Shina (106), the mother of Minako Fukutome (then age 9), one of the two girls. Shina made the cranes with her prayers for comforting the souls of the victims and for peace. A ceremony to comfort the souls was held on August 8th in front of the statues of the girls in a garden on top of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

Eighteen people joined in the ceremony, including Ms. Junko Date (61) and two persons from the office of the group supporting the creation of statues to memorialize "The Girls in Kimonos." Also attending were students from Kassui High School and Mr. Hiroshi Matsuzoe (77), who painted "Girls in Kimonos," which provided the strong incentive to erect the statues.

The statues were first presented to the public on March 31, 1996, a day before the museum's opening. But everything started with Mr. Matsuzoe's painting in 1974. It depicts two young girls clad in their best kimonos being cremated in a vegetable garden in the city of Nagasaki, ten days after the A-bomb was dropped. Later on, the names of the two girls and the fact that one of the girls' mothers lived in Ayabe, Kyoto Prefecture were revealed.

At the time the bomb was dropped, Shina lived in Shanghai, China due to her husband's work, and she had Minako stay with her relatives in Nagasaki. After the bombing, Minako was evacuated to another location close to where the second girl in the painting, Chikako Oshima (then age 12), had died. Shina didn't know of her daughter's death until after she returned to Japan from China.

Mr. Matsuzoe's painting was the last image she saw of her daughter. She wrote a letter to the students association of Ayabe Middle School and expressed her wish to "erect a jizo statue (guardian of children and travelers in Buddhism) to comfort the souls in Nagasaki." That started the group "Organization to Erect the Statues of the Girls in Kimonos." Donations were collected from all over Japan and the statues were built.

The sculptor who created the statues, Mr. Katsuhiko Yoe (67) of Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, has visited Nagasaki every year along with Ms. Date to clean the statues. Since 2004, students from the Peace Activity Club have been joining them, and from 2005 they have been offering paper cranes at a ritual to comfort the souls.

Ms. Date visited Shina at the welfare facility where she was staying in Ayabe. Shina visited Nagasaki for the first public viewing of the statues but has not done so since. She now is hard of hearing and her ability to move about is limited, but since June she has been folding paper cranes with Ms. Date.

On August 5, Ms. Date visited Shina, who always says, "Wars are no good. Peace is the best." Ms. Date assured Shina that she would convey her message. Shina held Ms. Date's hands, pressed her cheek against them and said, "Thank you!"

Ms. Date plans to visit Nagasaki before August 9 every year from now on. She says, "Let's eliminate nuclear weapons from the world so there will be no more victims like us. The girls' spirit and also Shina's words inspire and move us."

* * *

Mr. Matsuzoe, who painted "Girls in Kimonos," is also the head of the section of the association from Nagasaki that continues efforts to promote peace. I heard that he was going to give a talk about his own bomb experience at Nagasaki Nishi High School on Nagasaki A-bomb Day, and I decided to visit him at his house in Nameshi 1-chome, Nagasaki in late July 2008. Back then Nagasaki Nishi High School was located at the site of the former Keiho Prefectural Middle School (present-day Keiho High School), and it is also my own alma mater. I was very much interested in what he intended to say in his speech.

He spoke in a very kind tone of voice while showing me photos and some other written descriptions of that area right after the bomb. He showed me a sketch book with the two girls. They were laid side by side, fully dressed in their best kimonos and people were just about to light the fire for cremation. This original painting is now displayed in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum along with two other huge paintings depicting air scenes of the area at the time of the bomb. After several visits to his house, Mr. Matsuzoe began to tell me many stories about the girls. "I just happened to walk right by the site and felt I needed to paint a picture of the scene to keep the memory."

* * *

In the morning of August 9, 1945, air raid sirens were heard in the early hours. Mr. Matsuzoe was a third-year student at Keiho Prefectural Middle School. He was mobilized to work at the Mitsubishi Steel Factory in Morimachi. At the siren, they had to stop their work and take a train to evacuate to Michinoo Station, in the northern suburbs of Nagasaki. The station had been a popular place for students, like Mr. Matsuzoe, to meet or just to hang out.

In a while after they evacuated, an older boy with whom he was friends said, "Let's go back to the factory." But Mr. Matsuzoe said, "No, I'm not going back."

There was a reason for this. The same siren had been heard on August 1 around noon. They had heard sirens many times before, but nothing serious ever happened. Mr. Matsuzoe said, "Why do we have to evacuate every time there is a siren?" So this time, he and a few other boys did not evacuate but went into the basement of the factory instead.

But to their surprise, they heard several airplanes and could hear many bombs being dropped. Boom. Boom. Boom. Kaboom! The earth shook. A factory worker who got strafed in his shoulder came into the basement crying. Mr. Matsuzoe put his hands over his eyes and ears and his body shook with fear. "I never want to see that kind of thing again!" He said and headed home.

The factory was about one kilometer [0.6 mile] from the hypocenter. The older boy who did go back to the factory was burned terribly. He died a few days later.

* * *

Around 11 a.m. on August 9, the drone of an airplane was heard.

Now at home, Mr. Matsuzoe looked up at the sky. The sun was bright and he had to put his right hand over his face to try to see the shape of the plane, but he couldn't see anything. He was in the garden of his house in Nameshi, Nagasaki, about 3.8 kilometers [2.4 miles] north of what would very soon become the hypocenter. The drone of the airplane continued on toward the center of the city.

Immediately there was a flash that sounded just like a flash bulb in an old camera. With the sound came a bright flash. "Ouch! Hot!" He said and hid his face with both hands. "Incendiary bombs were dropped by mistake. This is such a remote area," he thought and ran toward the air raid shelter at the back of his house. In the next moment, he realized he was lying in a bamboo grove about four to five meters [13 to 16 feet] away from where he had been. He had been blown there by the blast.