Thursday, January 10th, 2013
A rare picture of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima split into two distinct parts, one on top of the other, has been discovered at Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima city. According to a notation on the back of the print, the photograph was shot from the town of Kaitaichi (today part of the town of Kaita), six miles east of ground zero two minutes after the bomb was dropped on August 6th, 1945. The picture was known to a few historians but only through copies; its only recent publication was in the 1988 book Hiroshima-ken Sensai-shi (Chronicle of War Damage in Hiroshima Prefecture).
This is the first original print of this photograph discovered, and the information on the back contradicts what historians have thought about the picture. Hiroshima-ken Sensai-shi described the picture as having been taken 20-30 minutes after the bomb was dropped, not immediately after detonation.
The only other image of the split cloud over Hiroshima was taken from the air by U.S. military photographers accompanying bomber Enola Gay in a B-29 Superfortress later named Necessary Evil. If it’s the picture I think it is (see left), then the cloud wasn’t quite split. There’s still a filament connecting top and bottom. The newly discovered print shows the two parts of the cloud completely separated.
The print is six inches high and four and a half inches wide. It was found in a collection of materials, mainly press articles, about the bombing of Hiroshima. The collection was donated to the school by Yosaburo Yamasaki, a local resident who survived the bombing, in or just after 1953.
That’s a significant year because the Allied Occupation of Japan officially ended April 28th, 1952. Before then, Occupation authorities censored images that were considered potentially subversive. Pictures of the atomic bombs and of the cities they had leveled were not allowed in the Japanese press. In fact, as soon as they took over in 1945 the U.S. Occupation forces seized printed photographs of the bombings from press agencies. Two thousand prints of war damage seized during the occupation were returned to Japan in 1973.
The picture will go on display at a museum next to the school starting this spring. Hongawa Elementary School was the school closest to ground zero (around 380 yards away from the epicenter). The structure was burned in the firestorm that followed the blast. Ten faculty members and 400 children were killed instantly. The peace museum was built next to the reconstructed school to document the devastation. Artifacts from the school and photographs of the damage are on display.