The holy grail of Japanese photobooks, Kawada’s Chizu was five years in the making and changes hands for £25,000 a copy. Now a new edition revisits his personal archeology of a nation’s pain
Kikuji Kawada was 25 when he visited Hiroshima for the first time. It was July 1958 and he had been assigned by a Japanese news magazine to assist Ken Domon, a renowned photographer 14 years his senior. As Domon worked in and around the Hiroshima Peace Park, Kawada found himself drawn to the ruined shell of a once ornate, steel-framed building that had been badly damaged, but somehow remained standing, when America dropped the first atomic bomb on the city at 8.15 am on 6 August 1945, obliterating everything else within a mile radius.
“That’s when I found them,” he would later recall, “the stains on the walls of the rooms beneath the dome.” The bomb had been dropped from almost directly above the building, which was then called the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Alone in the dank ruins, Kawada realised that the stained walls held the only traces of some of the dead. “When the place was destroyed,” he told Aperture magazine in 2015, “there were about 30 people (who) had arrived for work and ended up vaporised. The place had a horrible atmosphere. Just looking at it was overwhelming.”