Editor's note: This story has been amended to better reflect the number of estimated casualties resulting from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.
HIROSHIMA -- Mazda Motor Corp., the most famous company from Hiroshima, may have survived the city’s infamous atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, quite literally by only a split hair.
It’s a story not often told by Mazda. I heard it for the first time from its official historian during a recent visit to the carmaker’s global headquarters in this city of river deltas.
The day of the attack just happened to be the birthday of Mazda founder Jujiro Matsuda. And in keeping with Japanese tradition, he ventured downtown for a customary birthday haircut bright and early, as the Enola Gay B-29 bomber buzzed toward its target.
As he approached his regular barber, another customer was also racing for the door. But being the aggressive businessman he was, Matsuda quickened his pace and managed to stick his leg in first. He was the day’s lead-off trim, right at 7:30 a.m.
Without a wait, he was on his well-coiffed way in half an hour.
Good timing. At 8:16 a.m., the Little Boy uranium bomb exploded above a point in the city just 50 yards from Matsuda’s barber, in a blinding 10,000-degree fireball that unleashed a devastating shockwave and uncontrollable conflagration.
By that time, though, Matsuda had made it back across town to around the current location of the Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium, home to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp professional baseball team.
The shock wave blew his car from the street and ejected him and his driver from the vehicle. But they were still alive. The same couldn’t be said for some 60,000-80,000 others who perished in the attack and ensuing days.
Among the victims was the younger of his two sons.
Amazingly, the factory and headquarters of his company, then called Toyo Kogyo Co., was mostly unscathed. A mountain between it and the hypocenter shielded the plant from most of the blast.
Every Japanese automaker suffered U.S. air attacks during the end of World War II. By then, they had all been enlisted, as Mazda was, into the war effort and were fair game.
But none other saw its driving force so nearly snuffed out.
Jujiro ran the company until 1951, when he became chairman and handed control to his surviving son Tsuneji.
But it took Toyo Kogyo another seven years before the one-time cork company was making four-wheeled vehicles. Would it have made it even that far, had Jujiro been late for his haircut?