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Hiroshima for Global Peace

III Moto-machi District and Housing Construction

1 Moto-machi’s Transformation and the Construction of Houses in the Wake of the War

(1) The Transformation of Moto-machi

When discussing the postwar transition of Hiroshima there is one topic and one place that cannot be ignored, Moto-machi district. Moto-machi is located at the core of the city of Hiroshima’s Ota river delta and is a pivotal place. It is where Hiroshima Castle was built, along with its tower, main castle compound, and secondary and tertiary compounds. Around the castle were samurai residences during the feudal era. It was surrounded by outer, mid, and inner moats. This was the place where Hiroshima actually came to be.

After the Meiji Restoration, the castle area was used for the installation of the First Outpost of the Chinzei (Kyushu) Garrison in 1871; and in 1873, it was positioned as a military center with the establishment of the Hiroshima Garrison. From there on, many military units came to be concentrated in the area and facilities were founded; and in 1886, the Hiroshima Garrison was renamed the Fifth Division. Hiroshima was also developed as an industrial city and a center of learning as it modernized―and in conjunction with modernization came militarization, through at times in an almost competitive fashion. In a way, Moto-machi had been somewhat detached from ordinary citizens’ daily lives. During the First Sino-Japanese War, it was the location of the Imperial Headquarters, and Hiroshima functioned as a temporary capital. After the Russo-Japanese War, and up until the Pacific War, the military aspects were enhanced; and in that process Moto-machi came to play a central role, which would have a great impact on the lives of the citizens. Then, in August 1945, the bomb struck.

(2) Construction of Houses in the Wake of the War

The Moto-machi district was located a short distance, roughly one kilometer from the hypocenter and suffered devastating human and physical damage. The military was disbanded after the end of the war, and the area became vacant almost instantly. From this point the postwar history started. The former Western Drill Ground area was temporarily turned into farmland, and was later converted into residential land. Due to the bombing and damage incurred during the war, there was a dire housing shortage. So for the time being, it was decided that the land would be the best place for supplying emergency housing for demobilized soldiers and repatriates. After the war, this land became state-owned property and fulfilled a unique role. In October 1946, there were plans to use the majority of Moto-machi, an area of 70.48 hectares, for a Chuo Park. If the park development had continued as planned, the situation would likely have been entirely different, but as the area set for this park was used to build emergency houses, Moto-machi came to face new problems.

In June 1946, the City of Hiroshima constructed 480 emergency residences (in rows, each partitioned lengthways into 10 units). They were called “winter houses,” and featured foundations of piled logs, shingle roofs and no ceilings; however, people were competing to live in them. Additionally, 267 Setto-Jutaku [prefabricated housing about 7 tsubo (23.14 square meters) in size] were built during the 1946 fiscal year by the Housing Corporation, which had been active during the war and was put back into action. Residential construction continued in this area, including prefectural housing, and Moto-machi became a major residential area, breathing life back into the city which experienced a decrease in population due to the atomic bombing (Photo5-a, Figure5-3).

At the time there was a desperate need for housing, so supplying housing was a higher priority than securing park grounds. The decision to use the planned park areas for residential construction was made because using space set aside for parks would be least likely to cause problems and because former military lands had been temporarily set aside as park areas. The urgent need to address the critical housing shortage led to the decision to use the planned park space for much-needed houses, the priority issue at that time.

2 Construction of Mid-rise Public Housing

As Moto-machi transformed into an enormous residential area, it was faced with numerous problems.

After running against two-term incumbent mayor, Shinzo Hamai, Tadao Watanabe won the election with campaign promises of “turning the Moto-machi residences into high-rise apartments and reducing the park lands and the width of the100-meter road.” In the Moto-machi district, the size of the planned Chuo Park changed. In December 1956, as the area for the “construction and management of apartment complexes” (Ichi-danchi no Jutaku Keiei) was fixed, the scale of the park was reduced by 13.25 hectares to 42.32 hectares. A major change in the plan to create a residential area was proposed and discussed at a meeting of the City Planning Council. At the meeting, the objective of this decision was explained as follows: “The planned usage of former military lands, in the city center’s Moto-machi district, was for Chuo Park. But wooden public housing was hastily put up in this area after the war, and as there is no place to transfer these residents to, there has been almost no progress in the construction of the park. In order to overcome the construction bottleneck for this park and in order to consolidate the old public housing, a new section for ‘construction of an apartment complex’ must be added to the Peace Memorial City Construction Plan.”

In this way the “Moto-machi Mid-rise Housing Plan” (Figure5-4) was established; and in 1956, construction of the public housing started to replace old houses. By the 1968 fiscal year, 630 municipal housing units and 300 prefectural housing units were completed (Photo 5-5). Through this, a residential area was officially created in Moto-machi. Still, the remaining space for the planned park was full of old and illegal houses, and the park space had not yet been secured. It soon became clear that replacing all the clusters of wooden houses with mid-rise apartments would be impossible.

3 The Illegal Structures along the Moto-machi Riverbank

As of 1969, the riverbank in Moto-machi, on the left bank of the Ota River, was still full of illegal structures which had not been removed. There was a reason the place came to be called Aioi Street or an “A-bomb slum.” Today Aioi Street is a main street passing through Hiroshima’s biggest downtown area―stretching from Kamitenma-cho to Inari-machi near Hiroshima Station, through Tokaichi, the Aioi Bridge, Kamiya-cho and Hatchobori. But the development of the area between the eastern end of the Aioi Bridge and the eastern end of the Misasa Bridge (about 1.5 kilometers long) followed a unique process, and almost 1,000 homes were built at its peak. Around that time, this area came to be called “Aioi Street.” In “Konosekai no Katasumi de” (In a Small Corner of this World) (Iwanami Shoten, 1965), Tomoe Yamashiro wrote, “Reporters traveling through the area mention Aioi Street as simply a place A-bomb survivors have drifted to. But if that is how Hiroshima’s largest slum formed, we at least wanted to get a grasp of the actual situation…” “So we rented a room in the middle of the town, and Ryuichi Fumisawa lived there. So we know Aioi Street fairly well.”3) 

Soon after the bombing, residences and other new buildings started becoming concentrated in the area. At first, it started in the easily accessible areas, such as the eastern end of the Aioi Bridge (which was at the southern end of Aioi Street) and the eastern end of the Misasa Bridge (at the northern end). Then houses were built approximately half way between these bridges―where ferries connected Moto-machi with Tera-machi on the opposite side of the river. Once the former military grounds in Moto-machi were to be put to use for constructing temporary public housing (by the Housing Corporation and by the city and prefectural governments), those who had been evicted began building illegal housing along the riverbank. As land readjustment progressed as part of postwar reconstruction, Aioi Street also became a home for those who had nowhere to go.

The influx of people to Aioi Street was further increased due to the development of the Peace Memorial Park. This was reported in Honoo no Hi kara Niju Nen: Hiroshima no Kiroku 2 (20 Years after the Fires: Records of Hiroshima 2), edited by the Chugoku Shimbun. In the chapter, “Aioi Street,” it notes, “the construction of the Peace Memorial Park began on the opposite shore downstream. And suddenly, the people who had been evicted rushed over here and built nearly 70 shanties.”4) “From 1955 on, the construction of the Ota River floodway and the 100-meter road also brought many from the Fukushima district to this bank.”5) In 1958, Alain Resnais, a film director, visited Hiroshima for the filming of “Hiroshima Mon Amour.” It was later discovered that the lead actress Emmanuelle Riva had taken photographs of the slum in Moto-machi in-between the shootings.

This area was filled with houses built with temporary materials, which would deteriorate quickly. It was a dangerous place where fires broke out frequently (Photo 5-6). Aioi Street became known as an illegally occupied area and according to Yamashiro, “all the people who live here have been forced here under the political strain.”6)

During a field survey conducted in 19707) it was found that though decisions on the redevelopment had already been made and though the environment may have had its share of problems, the people were accustomed to and satisfied with living in the area, and a caring community started to form (Figure 5-5). Around 1965, when the land readjustments (as part of the war-damage reconstruction project) were approaching their final stage, the issue of the Moto-machi district was the largest problem. One big issue was that the residents in the wooden public housing (built after the war) could not be completely accommodated in the fire-resistant mid-rise apartment buildings, and the public housing was still congested and aging. Another issue was that as most of the illegal structures along the city riverbanks had been removed, Aioi Street was the last remaining area. The biggest task in the final stage of the war-damage reconstruction project in Hiroshima was figuring out what to do with this congested area that was troubled with hygiene and environmental problems.


3. Yamashiro, Tomoe. Kono Sekai no Katasumi de (In a Small Corner of this World). Iwanami Shinsho, 1965: Forward, p. vii.

4. Chugoku Shimbun (Ed.). Honoo no Hi kara Niju Nen: Hiroshima no Kiroku 2 (20 Years after the Fires: Records of Hiroshima 2). Miraisha, 1966: p 283.

5. Ibid., p 28.

6. Yamashiro. Tomoe. op. cit., Forward, p. vii.

7. Ishimaru, Norioki. et al. “Moto-machi Aioidori no Shutsugen to Shometsu” (The Appearance and Disappearance of Aioi Street). “Moto-machi Koso Jutaku ni Okeru Kukan to Bunka” (The Space and Culture of the High-rise Apartment Buildings in Moto-machi). In City of Hiroshima (Ed.). Hiroshima Shinshi: Toshi Bunka Hen (History of Postwar Hiroshima: Urban Culture) . City of Hiroshima, 1983.

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