Recently Unearthed Photo Showing Nagasaki 1 Day After A-bomb Likely Snapped by Army Lensman

Courtesy of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
A photo thought to have been taken by press photographer Yosuke Yamahata on Aug. 10, 1945, shows a debris-strewn area, with Shiroyama National School in the background.

A photograph thought to have been taken in central Nagasaki on Aug. 10, 1945 — the day after an atomic bomb was dropped on the city — has recently come to light.

Nagasaki City plans to exhibit the snap as an “extremely valuable document.”

The photo, which was likely taken by Imperial Japanese Army press photographer Yosuke Yamahata (1917-1966), shows scattered debris, a devastated railway track, collapsed utility poles and the shell of Shiroyama National School, which was located about 500 meters from the bomb’s hypocenter.

A Japanese national who served as an interpreter for the U.S. Marines in Nagasaki was gifted the photograph by a U.S. serviceman and was among a set of photos presented to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum in 2020 by the Japanese man’s family.

The snapshot in question contains no information about its photographer, but six other contemporaneous prints included in the donation are known to have been captured by Yamahata.

The army lensman is thought to have been among the first to image the bomb-hit city. According to Yamahata’s memoirs and other documents, he arrived at Michinoo Station in northern Nagasaki at around 3 a.m. on the day, together with army journalists.

Courtesy of Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
A photo taken by meteorologist Tetsuya Fujita sometime between Aug. 20-24, 1945, shows that debris on the road seen in the photo thought to have been captured by Yamahata has been cleared.

After visiting the regional military police headquarters in the south of Nagasaki, he took multiple photographs while heading northwards, prior to leaving the city in the afternoon.

Yamahata’s photographs depict destroyed buildings; A-bomb survivors; the bodies of people who died instantly as a result of the explosion, including the incinerated body of a boy ; and a mother and a child holding onigiri rice ball rations.

The pictures convey the tragedy of the atomic bombing in stark and chilling detail.

After analyzing the photograph in question, Shotaro Okuno, 37, a curator at the museum, concluded that it was likely taken by Yamahata about 200-300 meters from the hypocenter based on the following evidence: The school’s south building, thought to have been destroyed by a typhoon in September 1945, remains standing; smoke from the explosion can be seen still rising from the ground; and debris on the rail tracks would have made it difficult for trains to run, meaning the photo was likely taken before Aug.12 when trains were running.

Yamahata is known to have taken 116 photos the day after the Nagasaki bombing, but the newly confirmed “117th photo” has special significance.

As a result of the bomb, 1,400 of the 1,500 students enrolled at Shiroyama School died at home or elsewhere; the school building was subsequently designated a national historic site. According to the museum, a photograph taken by meteorologist Tetsuya Fujita (1920-1998) between Aug. 20-24, 1945, was thought to have been the first post-bomb snapshot of the school, based on the fact the south building was still standing in his photos.

However, Yamahata’s photo is thought to have taken before Fujita’s.

Nobuhiro Ifuku, chief of the city’s A-bomb history-preservation section, said: “[The photos] help show how the school changed. They’re of great historic value.”

Courtesy of Yosuke Yamahata’s eldest son, Shogo
Yosuke Yamahata