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Remembering Nagasaki: B.C. photographer moulds a vivid story of atomic bomb aftermath

Ken Mizokoshi’s collective work has been featured in Japan, New York City; Victoria could be next?

Given he was born and raised in Nagasaki, Japan, it may seem natural that photojournalist Ken Mizokoshi was inspired by a project to share stories of the fallout after an atomic bomb.

Mizokoshi moved to Canada about four years ago and settled in Greater Victoria in December with his wife and child. He says the name of his hometown reminds people of the atomic bomb dropped there at the end of the Second World War.

What he wants people to know is its effects linger 76 years later.

A few days after the bombing, one man who had survived the blast returned to his home which had been burned to the ground. He lost his wife and children. He found this head of a doll in the ruins. He kept it for years as a memento of his dead daughter. (Ken Mizokoshi photo)

His project involved taking photos of personal belongings found around the epicentre of the blast after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Aug. 9, 1945. Three days earlier they had dropped one on Hiroshima. The recorded numbers vary, but he says it killed roughly one third of Nagasaki’s population at the time.

The project began as one for work. He was a newspaper photojournalist and interviewed bomb survivors and took portraits of them for a series of articles. People were suffering from diseases such as cancer, caused by the radiation. Some caused generational, genetic physical effects.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay commemorates Hiroshima, Nagasaki with tree planting

For the 2010 features, he photographed items from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum as well as two institutions that were near the blast, the Urakami Cathedral and the School of Medicine, Nagasaki University.

He immersed himself in the topic, reading books and papers on top of the interviews. He became adamant that people learn about atomic bomb survivors – most were civilians – and the dangers of nuclear weapons. As he gathered the information and images, he found it wasn’t part of the past anymore.

A lot of photographers try to express the fears, show the gory devastation, Mizokoshi said. But he wanted his still life images to be calm, while instigating discussion and connection. He wants to inspire the viewer to feel for the owners of the items, to take it personally, to see: “it’s not so different from me. It could be us.”

READ ALSO: Nagasaki survivor still haunted by scenes of atomic blast

For example, a few days after the bombing one man who survived returned to find his home burned to the ground. He lost his wife and children and instead, found a doll’s head in the ruins. He kept it for years as a memento of his dead daughter.

Mizokoshi has showcased the body of work three times, in 2013 in Nagasaki, 2014 in Tokyo and 2015 in New York. No shows are set for Greater Victoria, though he’s open to it (email The series can be viewed online at

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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