Trams in wartime Hiroshima reenacted

I originally wrote most of this post all the way back in March of 2011, a few months before the 65th anniversary of the bombing on August 6 of that year, but never posted it. Since the anniversary date was only a few months later I had intended to publish it then, but forgot, so here it is now for the 70th – with a modern coda.

I first wrote this post a month ago when the Asahi first ran the article I quote below, but then realizing that the bombing anniversary was coming up I decided to sit on it until now. The atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, but since this story is more concerned with what happened three days later, on August 9, I have decided to publish it on that date.

The English Asahi has a short article on a very interesting sounding play entitled Momonomi (Peach), about an obscure aspect of wartime Hiroshima – the trains.1 Photos of the production included in this post are from the theatrical troupe’s web page.

The beginning of the play, on a real (albeit more modern) tram.

Six women who served as streetcar drivers or conductors in Hiroshima in 1945 were invited to ride one of their trams again Sunday to watch a play immortalizing their efforts to resume some transportation just three days after the city was leveled by atomic bombing. The drama, “Momonomi” (peach), is being presented by the Tokyo-based troupe Mokele Mbe Mbe Project on board streetcars around Japan.

The play depicts the life of students at a girls’ high school that was set up by Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. in 1943 to make up for a shortage of workers during the war.

Thirty of the students were killed in the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Survivors pulled together to get the trams running again only three days later.

Riding one of the two tram cars that survived the atomic bombing and are still in service, the six women wiped tears and sang along with the troupe as they watched the one-hour play.

“Remembering those days, I was moved to tears,” said Naoko Hata, 81. “I am pleased that young people will pass along what we did then.”

Morino Nakamura, also 81, said: “There were hardships, but I am proud of my service as a driver. I’ve never forgotten those days.”

The sign reads, “Recruiting for the inaugural class of the Hiroshima Electric Railway Girls’ School of Home Economics”

But despite sadly having missed the play, this is still a good opportunity to read a little bit more about the history that it depicted. So, I would like to take this chance to compose a grim sequel to my February 10 post on Trams in Japan.

According to the Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. (present name) article on JA Wikipedia, at the time of the August 6 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the electrical transformer for the Miyajima had already been moved to the outskirts of the city in anticipation of (presumably conventional) bombing. This transformer, along with cars from the Miyajima line, were used to restart service from Koi(己斐) to Nishi-tenman-machi (西天満町) on the 8th or 9th (as mentioned above), just a couple of days after the city had been devastated.

The website of the theatrical troupe gives a bit more information.2

In 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there were schoolgirls who drove the electric trams. There was a school of home economics established with the purpose of compensating for the labor force of men who had been mobilized in war. It was a school where labor was combined with study, but as the flames of war burned harsher the work became full-time. But they would be forced out of their jobs when the men returned after the war, and the girls’ school would close. These schoolgirls lived through the atomic bomb, and looked after their compatriots who had nearly died, despite their own injuries, all while restoring train service…

Pop culture depictions of how women ended up moving into formerly male-dominated roles during wartime do have some presence  in America (one famous example is the 1992  film A League of Their Own, which depicted the real, and short-lived, All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or Rosie the Riveter), but I must admit that I do not know offhand of prominent Japanese examples. I’m sure that this is just my own ignorance, and I would love to be pointed towards well known (or other lesser known) examples.

 

Rosy the riveter

Regardless, the play seems to have unfortunately already nearly finished its run, aside from one final weekend of performances in Nagasaki on the 10th and 11th. (As an aside, don’t you get annoyed when you see a newspaper article about a great live event AFTER it’s already happened, rather than announcing it in advance so you have a chance to go. I would have been very interested in heading over to Osaka for this.)

Another interesting detail hinted at in the article was that cars that had actually been damaged by the nuclear blast are still in operation in Hiroshima.

Hiroshima train car that survived nuclear blast

(This last bit is updated based on a new article.) As part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary, one of the three still functional surviving train cars (Model 650) from that era has been restored, and repainted in vintage colors.

Model 650 tram, car number 653 of the Hiroshima Electric Railway. It survived the atomic bombing, and has now been restored and given its original paintjob.

Among the crowd who observed the streetcar’s departure on June 13 was Sachiko Masuno, a 85-year-old “hibakusha” A-bomb survivor who worked as a driver and conductor for Hiroden tramcars during the closing months of World War II after enrolling in a women’s vocational school operated by the railway company in 1942.

Masuno, who continued working as a conductor for two years after the atomic bombing, said that the Hiroden trams still remind her of many former colleagues who lost their lives that day.

Of the 1,241 Hiroden employees at the time, at least 185 were killed in the A-bombing, while 108 streetcars, or nearly 90 percent of the company’s trams, were destroyed or damaged. Of her 300 classmates, about 30 also died in the tragedy.

“It is very moving to see the same streetcar that endured the city’s heinous experience still running in its original color,” Masuno said. “It is a very precious peacetime treasure.”

Two other Model 650 tramcars, No. 651 and 652, which were repainted in green and cream colors after the end of the war, still operate on the light rail network that stretches across the southern Japanese city.

While we have all missed the performance of Momonomi by several years, anyone in Hiroshima who wants to ride the restored No. 653 car will be able to do so on weekend and national holidays by making a reservation at 082-222-1155 (weekdays only).

  1. Note: this link is long-dead. []
  2. The troupe website still exists, but the page with the details for this play seems to be gone, so the Japanese language description they gave is given here. 「1945年、広島に原爆が投下されたとき、路面電車を運転していた女学生たちがいた。
    戦時中、男たちが出征したあと労働力を補う目的で設立された家政女学校。学業と勤労を兼 務した学校だったが、戦火が激しくなると終日勤務に。しかし戦後、男たちが復員して来るため職を追われ、女学校は廃校となる。原爆投下の廃墟を生き抜き、 自らも傷つき、瀕死の仲間たちを看病しながら、電車の復旧に尽くした女学生たち・・・」 []
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