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‘Hiroshima Timeline’ uses tweets to portray real-time experience of world's first atomic bombing

Hiroshima Timeline NHK on Demand

Screencap from Hiroshima Timeline documentary on NHK on Demand.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the August 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japanese public broadcaster NHK has launched an innovative way to commemorate the world's first use of nuclear weapons. The “What If They Had Social Media in 1945” (もし、75年前にSNSがあったら) project uses imaginary tweets based on the diary entries of three people who lived through the bombing of Hiroshima. Three Twitter accounts created for the project share a chronology of real-time tweets before, during and after the attack on Hiroshima.

Yasuko's tweets are taken from the 1945 diaries of Imai Yasuko, then 26 years old. Her diary entries (written in Japanese) from August 1 to August 7, 1945 can be found at the following link: https://www.nhk.or.jp/hibaku-blog/timeline/genbun/yasuko/434035.html

The diary entries came to be used for this project after three women who currently live in Hiroshima read them, and who then spread the word (about their importance).

Using three Twitter accounts, the Hiroshima Timeline project follows the lives in 1945 of Koichiro Osa (@nhk_1945ichiro), a 32-year-old reporter for the Chugoku Shimbun, Yasuko Imai (@nhk_1945yasuko), a 26-year-old homemaker pregnant with her first child, and Shunichiro Arai (@nhk_1945shun), 13, a junior high school student.

On August 6, 1945, in the final days of World War II, an American aircraft dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in western Japan. Up to 80,000 people—30% of the population of Hiroshima at that time—were killed instantly, and much of the city was destroyed. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the city of Nagasaki experienced a similar attack.

For the Hiroshima Timeline project, three Twitter accounts were launched in late March, 2020, and used an “on-this-day” format to share observations and experiences of daily life from 75 years ago in the months leading up to the August 6, 1945 bombing.

In April, 1945, Shunichiro Arai had just entered middle school and was still learning how things worked.

(April 26, 1945)

Today in math class we learned about how to “survey area”. I gave the senior boy (head of class, 級長) my beloved eraser. While he said he would return it after math class, he said the eraser had “disappeared.” When he does careless things like this, it's no wonder everyone says he's an idiot.

According to an article in Tokyo Shimbun, the Hiroshima Timeline project was supervised by playwright Yaginuma Akinori. Ordinary citizens of Hiroshima of different ages and all walks of life participated in the project to help write the tweets. Participants read period newspaper articles and listened to stories by relatives in order to understand the lives, personalities, and sensibilities of the three people profiled in Hiroshima Timeline.

The tweets were published according to corresponding diary entries, but were rewritten in a more accessible contemporary vernacular, all with the goal of presenting what ordinary people thought and felt in during wartime.

The project also provides eyewitness accounts of the events of August 6, 1945, when an American aircraft dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Reporter Koichiro Osa had just finished breakfast at his suburban home and was preparing to go to work when the bomb exploded. Left with a mouthful of dirt, first he checked to make sure his wife was safe, before venturing towards the city center.

(August 6, 1945)

What was THAT? A blazing fire is roiling up the water of the Sarugawa River, growling with a splintering, crackling roar. It is hell on Earth. A great fiery hell.

Junior high school student Shunichiro Arai also lived in a suburb of Hiroshima, but had already been on his way to school when the bomb exploded. He experienced gruesome scenes as he navigated the ruins of the city, including a slowly marching column of badly wounded burn and blast victims.

(August 6, 1945)

Faces totally destroyed, eyes, noses erased. These can't possibly be people, even if they are human forms…

Homemaker Yasuko, whose husband was away from Hiroshima, serving as a conscript in the military, also survived the initial blast. The Hiroshima Timeline described her experience in a tweet that was shared thousands of times:

(August 6, 1945)

An incredible flash of light, a rumbling in the earth, the whole house sways, as lampshades scatter and window panes are blown out.

The sense of realism is so strong that a concerned reader asks about Yasuko's unborn baby:

Yasuko-san! Is your child in your tummy all right?

The Twitter account for Yasuko Imai was managed in part by Hiroshima resident Naori Fukuoka, whose grandparents experienced the bombing, and then had to live through devastation and hardship that persisted for years following the end of the war in August, 1945.

In an interview with Tokyo Shimbun, Fukuoka says:

8月6日に焼け野原になってたくさんの人が亡くなったことだけが原爆じゃない […] ずっと放射能の怖さを感じ、大勢の死傷者を見たトラウマ(心的外傷)と生きなくちゃいけない。原爆とは何だったか、私たちが考え出すのはこれからだと思う.

The atomic bomb not only killed all those people on a scorched field of earth field on August 6, 1945 […] Ever since that day we have all had to live in fear of radiation, and collectively we (in Hiroshima) have had to live with the trauma of witnessing mass death. When people wonder what happened on that day, from now on it is up to us to pass on that memory.

The Hiroshima Timeline project will continue to post tweets based on the diaries of the three eyewitnesses until the end of December, 2020.

The Hiroshima Timeline timeline documentary is available to watch online.

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