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Japanese Students Create 3D Version of Destroyed Neighborhood

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Students at Japan's University of Nagasaki are attempting to recreate a neighborhood an atomic bomb destroyed. Seventy thousand people died when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki to end World War II. Pictures and memories of the Urakami neighborhood at the city's center vanished with them. But a 3D project is bringing the neighborhood back to life.

University of Nagasaki professor Byondok Jun's vision to recreate the city's Urakami neighborhood began with one image: an aerial photo of Nagasaki, taken by a U.S. warplane.

The image was snapped two days before the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city near the end of World War II. But it was only released a few years ago. The black and white image captured a hospital, the university and surrounding homes; all buildings that were destroyed on August 10, 1945.

Jun says the image brought back the trees, the laughter, the city that existed before the attack. It gave him the first glimpse into life in Urakami and inspired him to recreate a three-dimensional image of the neighborhood.

Jun only planned to complete the aerial image - but students Yurika Uchijima and Kanouko Maeda asked to take the project a step further. They wanted to recreate street corners and store fronts - making the images more personal - for their graduate thesis.

Maeda says they had no idea where to start. They studied the professor's 3D aerial image first. Then they set out in search of old pictures of the Urakami neighborhood.

There was one problem: most photos of the community were destroyed in the attack. With few images to draw from, Maeda and Uchijima went in search of atomic bomb survivors and relied on their descriptions of Urakami.

Eighty-year-old Yoshitoshi Fukahori heard about the project and agreed to help out.

Fukahori says some question why I did this for free. But I felt an obligation to share my story as an atomic bomb survivor.

Fukahori was a teenager in 1945. He describes the Urakami neighborhood as one big family that opened its doors to everybody. He recalls the community gathering at the local barbershop to celebrate the smallest accomplishments and share in each other's joy.

In the early 1940s, Japan had conquered much of Asia and was at war with China, Britain and the United States. To end the war in August 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic weapons ever used on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A few days later, Japan surrendered.

Fukahori was not home the day of the bombing but his sister was.

He says he found her dead a few days later. She was grasping the beam of their home. His uncle was crushed under the building and his aunt died as well.

Fukahori has spent the past 30 years collecting pictures of his old neighborhood for Nagasaki's Foundation for Peace.

Now those pictures are the foundation of a project to bring his memories back to life.

Student Yurika Uchijima says Fukahori pointed them to the playgrounds and a well where neighborhood children gathered to relax. She says he put a personal story behind every one of the buildings.

The students have used those stories and the few pictures available to recreate 3D images of more than a tenth of Urakami's building. They hope to complete the project by December. Uchijima and Maeda do not have any idea how their images will be used after that but professor Jun sees it as a tool for peace, one that teaches another generation about the power of a nuclear weapon.