A series of photos claims that an arch (or torii) survived both an atomic bomb blast and a 2011 earthquake / tsunami in Japan. Is this true or false?
It is False.
A graphic circulating online contains a series of snapshots of a Japanese arch that supposedly withstood the atomic bombing of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki in 1945 and an earthquake / tsunami in 2011.
While it would be a great story, this claim simply isn’t true. The arches, or more correctly toriis, that are associated with this claim are not the same. In fact, the toriis are located in different cities within Japan.
Toriis are entryways to sacred Shinto shrines that are characterized by two upright beams and two crosspieces. In the claim circulating online, the torii in the first black and white picture is genuine and probably depicts a torii from either Hiroshima or Nagasaki which survived the atomic bombings in August 1945. Apparently there were multiple toriis which withstood atomic blasts in the two cities (discussed in a section below), a fact which has caused some confusion in relation to the black and white photo below. Some sources claim that it is from Hiroshima while others say it is Nagasaki. However, debates in relation to which city the torii is from are irrelevant, as the contemporary photo from 2011 depicts neither Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
In the second picture below, the arch shown survived the March 11, 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. This is not, however, the same arch that survived the 1945 atomic bomb. The torii in the second color photo is the entry to the Kozuchi Shinto shrine located in the city of Otsuchi.
Toriis That Survived
One torii that reportedly survived the atomic blast of Hiroshima marked the entrance of the Gokoku Shrine. According to this travel website, the shrine was 1 kilometer away from the epicenter of the bomb blast. Another site claims that the torii survived only because it absorbed the blast vertically. The surviving Gokoku Shrine was allegedly photographed by Shigeo Hayashi, a photographer selected to document the aftermath by the Special Committee for the Investigation of Atomic Bomb Damage.
According to a website connected to the Department of English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a photographer named Yosuke Yamahata photographed the desolation of atomic destruction in Nagasaki. Apparently he also took pictures of a surviving torii in Nagasaki.
It has also been stated that half a torii from the Sunno Shrine survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. The website of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum reports that the half-arch was photographed by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, and was located 800 meters from the southeastern hypocentre of the blast. It appears that the half-torii still stands today, and can be seen in the contemporary photograph below.
The arch in Otsuchi also still stands and you can see what it looks like today in a picture taken after the tsunami cleanup.
Possible Origin of False Claims
In March of 2011, the Daily Mail ran an article that visually compared the devastation of the 1945 atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima with the destruction caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Otsuchi. The two photos that ended up circulating within the false graphic were displayed side by side in the Daily Mail article with a caption that is quoted below:
1945 left and 2011 right: Shinto shrines represent the spiritual connection between the people and the land. The traditional Toril entrance gates to these shrines were among the few structures to survive in Hiroshima 66 years ago and in the village of Otsuchi last Friday
It is possible that some readers were confused by the caption and believed the two photos depicted the same arch.
The graphic circulating which claims the same arch survived the Nagasaki or Hiroshima bombing and the 2011 Japan earthquake is false. In reality, the arches are actually differing toriis which are located in different Japanese cities. One of these toriis is located in the city of Otsuchi, while the other is probably a 1945 photo from either Nagasaki or Hiroshima.
Updated January 10, 2015
Originally published March 2014