Morino Nakamura will not be a name familiar to most people in Japan and even less so to those outside of the country, but her place in history is guaranteed as the first of more than 300 school girls to drive or conduct the trams in Hiroshima during the war and, like many of her school girl colleagues, to suffer immeasurable trauma when the Little Boy atom bomb was dropped on the city on August 6, 1945.
This August, the surviving tram girls will get together at the Hiroshima Electric Railway Company for an annual ceremony to remember their friends who were either killed in the blast or who have since passed away.
Such was the urgent need to enlist the school girls that training was often rudimentary, with male tram drivers saying to the school girl next to him that she had to carefully watch how he operated the tram before inviting her to have a go at driving. If she was upto standard the instructor would say ” OK, you are certified.”
One driver, Hatsue Ishikawa, was so small that when she was surrounded by passengers at the front, the people at the back of the tram could not see her.
Other, more sober, memories are recalled by Akira Ishida who remembers that at the time of the blast: “Crowds of people had been walking beside the tram lines. There was not a trace left of them. All the walkers had been carbonised.
Tram girl Haruno Horimoto said :”One day I would be working on the tram, the next I would be searching for my mother. I feared that even her bones had been burnt to ashes. I have no idea what happened to her even today.”
Despite the desperate times romance did blossom on some lines, with tram 101 being renowned for having the best looking girls operating it and subsequently the most school boys riding it.
Just three days after the explosion, Hiroshima’s trams started operating again and the first service was driven by a tram girl, conveying displaced people. Those without money were able to travel for free.
Report by Jonathan Webb