Trams are an everyday feature of life in the city of Hiroshima, where they continue to serve a very effective means of providing cheap and low polluting mass transportation. There are in fact nine lines operating today, but the focus on my writing today is the Hakushima tram.
The Hakushima tram is our neighbourhood tram service that conveys us to downtown Hiroshima; which actually is no more than just over one kilometer in distance. The line has been operating since 1912, with an obvious pause of a few years after the atomic bomb blast on 6th August 1945.
Frankly I adore riding on the Hakushima line (Tram No. 9) with its five stations dotted along the route. The trams on this route are amongst the oldest in current service, affectionately referred to as the “travelling museum”. The tram is composed of a single carriage, coloured either brown and crème or green and cream and spotlessly clean. The drivers are dressed formally in their green uniforms, peaked cap and white gloves, each of them clutching what appears to be a black, leather handbag. There are meticulous in their appearance as well as in their punctuality.
Yet the punctuality of the tram drivers on the Number 9 line does not prevent them from being courteous to their passengers; waiting for them should they be running to catch the tram, greeting each passenger and even getting off the tram too attract a passenger’s attention if s/he has left a package on the tram by mistake.
But woe betides you if you try to get off the tram without having paid. A woman tried to do on Saturday. Our normally mild-mannered driver became quite stern and when she paid him no heed, he leant over the payment console so that his head actually protruded out of the door of the tram and yelled at her until such time as she returned to the tram and settled her account to his complete satisfaction! Nobody in the tram paid any attention to this cameo but it most certainly caught my attention. I was intrigued because in the first place this was clear evidence of power and authority made boldly manifest. Somehow this personified one of the essential elements of life in Japan; that of shame and honour.
Secondly, there was the comical sight of the driver’s green uniform hanging out of the tram as he bellowed after the miscreant, white gloves clutching onto the console as a means of stabilizing his impending fall onto the station. How did his hat stay on his head under such circumstances?
While researching a few salient facts about trams in Hiroshima I cam across an interesting post by Jonathan Webb in which he comments on the use of female high school students that served as tram drivers after the atomic bomb blast in August 1945. As I had already found examples of how high school girls had contributed to the resurrection of life after this momentous occasion, I was intrigued about this event. It appears that there were approximately three hundred girls that were trained as tram drivers, even though their training may very well have been somewhat briefer than normally was the custom. These novice drivers then worked their shifts moving people around the city where indeed there were lines in existence while they also had to deal with the realities of finding their relatives; or not as was the case for so many.
One statement included in Jonathan Webb’s posting highlights this reality when he wrote that “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.””
Today it is very difficult to appreciate that these girls worked as tram drivers and particularly so at such a time of tremendous uncertainty and danger. Yet the evidence exists that confirms this as indeed do the records of their subsequent annual meetings which were held to commemorate their devotion to their duty and to their city. Although the image that is created is one of pathos, I am sure that there were indeed moments when the young tram driver found some relief in their daily work. Indeed perhaps one of them even shouted at a passenger who had not paid! Or perhaps their hat did fall off at a moment when the world was not looking.