Lest we forget
After a 20 year absence I revisited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan this June. I had learned about the atomic bombs in Hiroshima & Nagasaki and stories of the survivors as a part of the Peace Education curriculum. At school, we were often given literature (some very graphic) about the atomic bombs survivors. I was aware that the passage of time since the event which left few survivors who could share their stories and impart their wisdom. I felt this to be one of the last opportunities that would be afforded to me to learn, document and share their lives.
Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima
On August 6, 1945 at 8:15 the world first atomic bomb “Little Boy” was dropped in downtown Hiroshima City, Hiroshima, Japan. It was said to be a beautiful clear blue-sky day. Little Boy exploded about 600 meters above ground, and created diameter of approx. 280 meters light spheres whose center reached 1000000 Celsius. Ground around ground zero reached approx. 3000-4000 Celsius within a moment. The population of Hiroshima at that time was approx. 350000. By the end of December of the same year, 140000 had died.
Hiroshi was 17 years old, working for Hiroshima Communication Department. He was at his desk on 4th floor of the office, 1.3 Km away from ground zero. He was the youngest, so his desk was away from the window, behind a pillar, which prevented him from being exposed to the heat wave from atomic bomb.
"I arrived at work at 8 am. I had just returned from a 2 month long field excursion in Kyushu, Japan. " At 8:15, strong beam of light and explosion knocked me off to the floor. "The pillar prevented me from being burned by the heat wave, but pieces of shuttered window pierced my entire body. In Japan, we often describe atomic bomb as “ PIKA (lighting) DON (blast of explosion)”. I remembered PIKA, but I don't recall DON, as my hearing was temporarily gone at that time. I was bloody, but I could walk. I took stairs down with my injured colleagues and came out of the building. The building had beautiful stone entrance steps. I remembered the steps were covered with blood and bloody handprints. We retreated to a nearby river (Kyobashi River). We heard screams and voices pleading for help from collapsed houses. We could not do anything about it. On the riverbanks, one middle school student asked for water, he was badly burned. I did not give it to him, because we were taught not to give water to the badly burned as it would kill them. I wish I had given him water now. We did not know anything about radiation. We stayed outside and stayed in at my colleague’s house, which was a little further out from the ground zero in Hiroshima."
"The next morning, Hiroshima had been burned to dirt. I saw skeletons, dead bodies of half burned, carbonized bodies, swelled bodies whose gender you could not tell. It was eerily quiet. I walked back to my home in Miyajima. This is when I found out that my younger sister had died."
"My sister had just turned 13 years old in June. She was working with her class on site as a part of Japan’s student mobilization program during WWII. She was 800 meters away from ground zero. She was badly injured by the blast. She was carried by a military truck to outside of Hiroshima for treatment. There, she was tended by a village woman. “ Will you hold my hand?” She died holding the woman’s hand on the night of 6th. Her body was returned to us next day. Her cloth had been burned off, her body badly injured, covered with yukata (Japanese summer dress). Strangely, her face was not injured. All of her classmates and teachers, 228 of them died of the atomic bomb. There were said to be over 7000 students who died in Hiroshima. I found my sister to be one of the lucky ones that who was carried out to the treatment center outside of the city. There are so many still missing. Losing my sister to the atomic bomb is my saddest moment in my life."
"I started to talking about my Hibaku experience about 10 years ago. It was not because I had refused to discuss it, but it is something I did not want to recall. My experience was a norm at that time. I am 87 years old now. I don't have much time left. I believe war is a government-sponsored terrorism. It transforms human beings into lethal weapons. The ultimate manifestation of it is Atomic bomb. I think the Atomic bombs were not only dropped onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but mankind. In Hiroshima, we have a beautiful Hiroshima Peace Park now. I want you to know that there used to be neighborhoods there." (Hiroshima Peace Park is about 122100 m2. There used to be 7 density neighborhoods which were wiped out by the Atomic Bomb)
"Everything that had existed here disappeared on August 6, 1945. As long as I live, I will continue to have my voice alive."
Tamiko was 7 years old. She was a 1st grade elementary school student. She was at Hiroshima Ujima Elementary School, when the bomb exploded. She said that majority of her school students had been evacuated to their relatives in countryside. But the 1st and 2nd grade students were excluded from the evacuation to stay with their immediate families. She just came into her classroom. There were about 10 students in the classroom. She got to her seat, took of her safety hat off, sat down and just opened a book.
"A beam of strong light came in from northern window, and I wondered what it was. Then the huge blast broke through the windows. We did not know what to do, we were panicking. Everyone was crying. I guess I was crying, too."
"The Shoebox outside of the classroom was gone. Outside there was glass everywhere, but I went home in bare feet. My house was still standing. When I saw my mother, I felt relieved. “What happened to your face?” Two pieces of glass, both about 2 inches long, had struck my head and my left wrest as well. There were many shuttered pieces of glass on the soles of my feet. My mother plucked every piece of glass out with a tweezer. Then I went to a clinic near my house. The rescue team had brought more severely wounded patients to the clinic. I was sent home without treatment, because I was not injured badly."
"On August 7th and 8th, my mother and I searched my grandmother all over the town. My grandmother had left her house in the morning of 6th, and had been missing since then. On 9th, we found my grandmother at one of the treatment facilities. She was lying on her stomach and her back was severely burned. I saw a big fly on her back. We moved her to another facility near the house. I wanted to help her. All I could however was to kept flies, using a fan and plucked maggots from her wounds. She died on the 12th. "
"When I was in third grade, I became quite ill, I developed a high fever and bloody stools. I was admitted to a hospital. I was crying all night. My mother was there to take care of me. One time a woman innocently started a conversation with my mother that a crying girl (that was me) is still alive. That made me really sad. I came back to my school after a year of rest. All my schoolmates including my friends started to pick on me. They insinuated that my sickness from the bomb was contagious. It was really hard for me. But my mother always encouraged me to smile and keep my head up."
"When I was 21 years old, I got married. I did not tell my husband that I was an A-bomb survivor. I was afraid of prejudice. After sometime, an incident led my husband to learn about my past of Hibaku. He simply said, “ I thought so”.
"I started to share my Hibaku story with others about 2 years ago. Before my mother’s passing, we had discussed that importance of passing our stories to the next generation, and I began volunteering Peace Park in 2000. It still took me 13 years to start talk about my experience. Year by year, I feel stronger about sharing my story. I owe who I am today to my mother and my husband. I am not asking anyone to be a hero, but be kind to people around you. That is, I believe the first step towards peace."
Kunihiko was 9 months old. He was on the balcony taking a nap at his home (3km from ground zero). It was Monday on August 6th in 1945, his father had gone to work, and his mother was washing clothes inside. He does not remember the atomic bomb.
"At 8:15, there was said to be lighting PIKA, and a huge blast. All the windows shuttered and part of roof came down. My house did not collapse. My mother carried me on her back to the evacuation place. On the way there, black rain rained on us. "
"I knew I was exposed to radiation, because I had problems with my liver and kidney when I was young. It was not until I read “Black Rain” a book about Hiroshima Atomic bomb victims, by Masuji Ibuse, it made sense how my life was affected by the atomic bomb. After school, I went to Tokyo. I had a girlfriend whom I wanted to marry at that time. I was open about my past. I think she liked me very much, too. She introduced me to her parents. Then I heard her mother asking her “ Is he from Hiroshima. Why do you have to choose someone from Hiroshima to marry?” It shocked me. I had never thought how I would have been defined by the experience I did not even remember. There may have been a way for us to work things out, if we really wanted to be together. But it did not work out. After returning to Hiroshima, I got married and had children. There are no known influences on my children from the radiation. Fear is always there, but no one would say it aloud.
Before retiring from my work, I never did anything to do with atomic bomb experience. I rarely attended the yearly peace ceremony except the years my parents died. I guess I may have been running away from the past. After retirement, I became involved in a lawsuit against Japanese government to extend the recognition and care of the atomic bomb injuries and began volunteering at the Hiroshima council of A-bomb sufferers organization. I help people to get “Atomic Bomb Victims record book”. In order to qualify the medical care for the atomic bomb injuries, they need to recall Aug 6th.: Some have become depressed, and suffer from insomnia. I don't remember what happened to me on Aug 6th, 1945. But I am learning about the date from them. A bomb experience is not just what happened on Aug 6th. My life from Aug 6th to this day, is my Hibaku experience.
Atomic bomb in Nagasaki:
On August 9 1945, at 11:02. The Atomic bomb called “Fat boy” was dropped at Uragami district in Nagasaki city, Nagasaki, Japan. It was three days after the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. The population of Nagasaki at that time was approximately 240000. By the end of December of the same year, 73844 had died.
On Aug 9, 1945 11;02. Sachiko was at a mountain shack with her grandmother, mother, 3 younger brothers, 1 younger sister and 2 other young relatives. It was 1.3km away from ground zero in Nagasaki. She was 11 years old, attending 5th grade at Yamazato elementary school. School had been closed since July. Sachiko lived with her family (father, grand mother, mother, 2 aunts, 3 sisters, 6 brothers and cousins) in Uragami district, Nagasaki.
After August 6 (Hiroshima’s a bomb), my father came across a flyer from U.S plane “August 8th Nagasaki become ash”. My father built a shack with 2 tatami mats, on the mountain, next to our sweet potato field. My family evacuated to the shack on August 7th and 8th, On the morning of 8th, my mother and grandmother protested that they would not want to go to the mountain shack since the said date of the flyer had passed. My father was upset and told them that U.S time is a day later than Japan time, and ordered us to go to the mountain shack. So we hiked up to the mountain shack again. It was not because we were afraid of U.S. bombing, but we did not anger my father. There were 10 of us: grandmother, mother, 3 younger brothers, 1 younger sister and 2 relatives. My oldest sister Fumiko, made us rice balls with a lot of wheat (rice was very scarce during the war) and boiled potatoes for us.
I was wearing work pants, long sleeves blouse, and 1st aid medical shoulder bag, it was a hot day. When we arrived at the shack, I took off all my cloths and wore only slip underwear inside the shack. I was standing on one of the tatami mat and gazing inside of my first aid kit. White-yellowish light beamed into the shack. We did not know what it was. Moments after, big bang sounds shuttered from the ground we were standing on and from the far away mountain at the same time. Then darkness covered it all.
I don't know how much time had passed. The darkness began to fade from above. I could not see my mother, but heard her “ Where is everyone, are you ok? Did you get hurt?”. When I could finally see, the shack and sweet potato field were gone and my mother was standing in front of me. I did not have any visible injuries. My mother said that she could not see with one eye, and had a bump, which was getting more and more swollen by the second. My sister later told me, the shack had collapsed on her, and next thing she knew my mother was holding her. One of my younger brothers had a big open cut on back on his neck. It was a huge cut on his tiny neck. It was not bleeding, and I could see something white inside the cut. He must not have had pain, he was just staring at mother just like I was. Both of my cousins were badly burned on part of their bodies. They were crying. Everyone was alive.
Then we saw a small plane flying really low. We looked for places to hide, but there was none. So we covered our eyes and ears (that was what we were taught) and lay down on the ground. I slowly looked up at it, the plane was flying very low, and I could see the pilot and two American soldiers who were looking around. After the plane was gone, my grandmother scolded my brothers and cousins that we were targeted, because they were loud, and they had heard us inside the shack.
We began to worry about our home and the rest of family in Nagasaki. So we went to the edge of the mountain to look down. We could not see anything. Nagasaki was covered with a black cloud. It looked very scary. My grandmother said it was the end of the world. Looking back now, we must have looked at the mushroom cloud from above. My mother announced that she would go down and see our house in Nagasaki. So she went. I think I should have gone, since I did not have any wounds. But I was very scared to go into the dark cloud.
My mother returned shortly afterwards. She encountered very badly burned mother and children. She could not recognize them, even though they said that they were from the neighborhood next to our own. They were very thirsty, my mother said. After she helped them drink some found rainwater, she gave up on going down to Nagasaki and returned to us. Everyone spent time with themselves. I sat on the path from the city, gazing at the air. It was hot from sky and ground. There was someone coming up on the path from the city. It was a man covered with dirt, ripped clothes with two triangle bandages. He used stick as a cane. As he approached, I realized that it was father. “Mom! Its dad!” We thought everyone had died, we were so happy.
My father belonged to a neighborhood security team. He was at the office ( 800 meters away from ground zero). When it exploded, the 2-story wooden office collapsed on my father. He was rescued from the ruined by strangers. The office had been located in the densely populated residential area. All the houses were gone, when he was rescued, he said. Fire had startedspreading from place to place. He felt very sick. There was a weapon factory nearby. He looked to see if the gas tank had collapsed from the factory. Knowing nothing about atomic bomb and radiation, he concluded that his sickness was due to inhaling poison gas from the tank. He thought that he should have gone to mounting where air would be cleaner. So he hiked up the mountain and found us. After my father’s arrival, two of my relatives came and they told us what happened to our house.
Our house was located 800 meters away from ground zero. My older sister Fumiko and one of my aunts were home at the time of explosion. Our house was knocked down to the ground. A neighbor rescued my aunt. My aunt was very badly burned. She looked for my sister, but she could not find her. There was a railroad behind my house and medical trains had begun to arrive shortly after the blast. My aunt decided to seek treatment for her injuries. My house was later burned, and we found Fumiko’s skelton.
My other older sister was working at the factory as a part of Japanese government’s students mobilization program. She survived the blast, and followed the railroad to head home. There was nothing left on ground, she said. She did not know how to go home, if there was no railroad. When she arrived home ( or where home used to be), she united with my aunt. My sister told me that my aunt was so happy to see her. She was very badly burned. She held my sister’s hand and asked her to wait for her, as she would get on the train to seek treatment for her injury and come home. My sister told me that aunt’s hands had no skin left and her hands felt slippery. My aunt died on 11th at the hospital where she was transported.
One of my brothers was in the same neighborhood security team as my father. His body was later found on the rooftop of my elementary school, where there was a bell to alarm people of the U.S.air raid. When we first went to see his body there, we could not carry out his body from school as the building was very badly damaged. The next morning, my other older brother and uncles went to retrieve the body, his body was gone. To this day, we don't know where it went. I had three older brother living with us in Nagasaki at the time: One brother died at my school, whose body went missing, one older brother who survived the bomb, and other brother, we don't know what happened to him. I also lived with 2 aunts, one died at the hospital on 11th and the other we don't know what happened to her. These two brothers and one aunt, have graves indicated that they died on august 9th, 1945, but we don't have their bodies.
On night of August 9th, we spent a night at the mountain. Nagasaki was burning. It was a cold night. I could not sleep. In the morning, I came down with my relatives to Nagasaki. This was when I first saw dead bodies. I was scared. But I also wanted to see it. I looked to the side. It was two men wearing a factory uniforms. They did not have any visible injuries. Nagasaki was covered with ashes, it was like snow. There was no road, we walked through ashes to air raid shelter. There were many skeletons in the ashes. There were a lot of dead bodies in the ruins. It smelled very strong. It must have been smell of bodies burning. Inside the air raid shelter, there were a lot of people. Many were badly injured and burned. The shelter was filled with crying and a horrible odor. They just lied there and dying, no one got treated.
On 15th, we heard the end of war from a pass by at the air raid shelter. My family went to our extended relative house at Togitsu town, outside of Nagasaki. My father was getting worse and worse everyday, In Togitsu town, I went to doctor’s house everyday, so my father can get a shot everyday. After he suffered excruciating pain: high fever and diarrhea. Purple patched appeared all over his body and lost of all his hair. he died on August 23. Witnessing the suffering and death of my father, I felt sadness for the first time. 21 of my family members died from atomic bomb. My father was the only one who could receive proper caring before death.
When I attended 50th anniversary of Nagasaki atomic bomb at my elementary school, I learned that 1300 out of 1581 students of the school had died from Atomic bomb. I could not stop crying. It took me long time to start sharing my story. I began telling my story after I retired from work at the age of 62. I tell my story to many school students. One time I was asked if I had ever considered committing suicide. I was shocked to be asked and I cried. My answer was “my father saved our lives that day. I can’t take my life lightly”
I saw many dead bodies at that time. One death that struck me the most was a dead body of a pregnant woman. When she became a skeleton, I saw a baby skeleton inside her. I had 12 brothers and sisters. During the wartime, it was encouraged to have many children, so that they could fight in the battlefield. This is war. I never want anyone to go through what I went through. We should never engage in any war and please don't use nuclear power. This is my message."
Setsuo was 1 year and 9 months old on August 9th, 1945. He had one older brother and a younger sister. His mother had gone to buy salt at the store at that time. She left his brother and his sister at the house and placed Setsuo inside U.S. air raid shelter near the house. It was about 1.8km from ground zero.
"My mother told me that by the explosion, her hair burned, curled up and she was almost naked with most of her clothes burned off by the explosion. She rushed home to look for his brother and a sister. Their house had collapsed. She found them in the ruins and then picked me up from the shelter and ran for a hill near the neighborhood. On the way to the summit, she saw many dead people, burned bodies and badly injured; many whose eyes had popped up, and whose skin had melted off. “Water please, water please” everyone asked for water. My mother with her three young children, did not stop till the summit, as she passed the dead and the needy “I am so sorry, I am so sorry” she repeated to those in need. Looking down the city from the summit, there was nothing left, she said later. She could see fires starting in all directions already. At dusk, she came down from the hill to go into the air raid shelter. There were a lot of sick people inside the shelter. Everytime one of us cried, my mother was yelled at, and had to go outside till we calmed down, before going back to the shelter.
My father was at 1.9 km from ground zero, when he was blasted by the atomic bomb. He was working for logging company at that time. He was pulling a cart full of logs and his colleague was pushing it from behind. When the explosion occurred, my father said that he fell to the ground, and covered his eyes and ears. When he gained his consciousness, there was nothing around him. He was badly burned, and some of his skin had melted off. He found his colleague black burned dead, and blown far behind. With some help around him, he was able to fetch a stick as a cane, and made it to home, only to find out that the house was obliterated. We had already taken refuge to the hill at that time. It took a week for us to re unite at one of the air raid shelters. Around the time, food was very scarce. Everyone was hungry. One of our neighbors steamed sweet potatoes and shared them with us at the shelter. My mother did not allow us to eat them. Within 10 days, everyone ate the sweet potatoes died with purple spots all over their bodies, and a swelled stomach. There was a closed canned food factory on the other side of the city, My mother took these canned foods and fed us. This is the story my mother told me, but I had no idea a woman like my mother who had no knowledge about radiation, did not let us eat the food at that time.
After the war, we spent some time at the relative houses outside of Nagasaki, and my family returned to a small 1DK apartment in Nagasaki. Two of my brothers were born there. When I was in the 4th grade, we moved to the Shiroyama district in Nagasaki which gave us an apartment which was a bit larger. I was transferred to the 4th grade class 1 at Shiroyama elementary. It happened to be Genbaku Kyoshitsu (Atomic bombs Class). Genbaku Kyoshitsu was created by a group of teachers who lost their students to radiation sickness (mainly leukemia) years after the explosion. The Japanese government did not help the survivors. So the teachers from Nagasaki created a Genbaku Kyoshitsu where teachers actively monitored students health who enrolled in the class. Every morning, we started our day by sampling our urines in a beaker, and moved it to test tubes, which was labeled with our names. And we visited Nagasaki University Hospital for medical examinations. I had a best friend at the school. His name was Makoto Hisamatsu. He was fun, athletic, and smart, we did everything together. In September during our 4th grade (Japanese school starts in April), he was diagnosed with leukemia, and admitted to a hospital. I went to visit him at the hospital many times. But his condition quickly got worse, and he died in October. I was so young, I did not understand about radiation, and the atomic bomb that we both had been exposed to at our very early ages. I was devastated at losing my best friend.
My mother became very sick when I was around 10 years old. My sister who was a year younger than I was, began to take domestic tasks at early age. There was no consumer electronics, nor running water. She had to fetch water from a well every morning. I remember my sister washing clothes with snow in the water with her very red hands in wintertime. My sister who I think should deserve the happiness at most, was married to a nice man in 1971. She had a miscarriage, then massive colon polyps were found. In 1978, she had a surgery to have an artificial anus, and died in 1979. She was 34 years old. Over the years, my mother had a series of sickness, and surgeries. At the end, she was diagnosed with cirrhosis. I organized many blood drives at work and grass roots campaign on streets. I thank everyone who helped out at that time. My mother died at age 54.
We cannot know about the atomic bomb. We cannot know about radiation. Where one was standing, whether there was an obstruction, direction of the wind blowing, many small conditions at the time of exposure can change everything. My father who had keloids from his neck through back, and both arms died at age 88. My brother and I are both Hibakusha (Survivors of the atomic bomb). I lost hearing in my left ear when I was 8 years old. My brother was puking blood clots for a week, when he was a teenager. We could not take him to hospital, because we did not have money. But we both live. 2 of my younger brothers who were born after the war died before me. One died of lung cancer, the other died of multiple cancers that popped up at the same time.
About 10 years ago, I began volunteering at the Nagasaki peace group. I started to share my story 2 years ago. I told my story to many students through the peace education program. Many sent me letters after my talk, which makes me very happy. Observing the current political climate in Japan, I am afraid that history is trying to repeat itself. My friends, my brothers, my sister died without sharing their experience. We should never repeat what happened to them.
Misao & Masahiro Hirano
Misao was 24 years old at the time. She is from Uragami neighborhood, where Nagasaki Atomic bomb was dropped. On August 9, she was fortunately not in Nagasaki. Her husband work had transferred her family, her husband, and two of her young children, to Amakusa, Kumamoto, prefecture next to the Nagasaki prefecture.
“On August 9, 1945, I heard a big bomb was dropped in Nagasaki. My entire family was in Nagasaki. I got ready, carried my youngest child (8 months old) on my back and held the hand of 3 years old Masahiro. I headed to Nagasaki within a few days. We took a boat to Mogi harbor, and walked approx. 10km to Nagasaki city. When I got to Nagasaki, I ran into one of my husband’s relatives. “Uragami is all gone” he said. I found a death toll. I did not see any of my family names. “Maybe they are alive” I had a hope. My hope was shuttered, when I found out that most of my family died of the blast instantly. There was no one to report the dead. There was nothing left in Uragami district. I did get to see one of my sisters who survived the blast. We stayed with her over night. Next morning, I said to her "take care and I will return soon." and I went back to Amakusa. When I came back to Nagasaki next time, she had died. I did not think she would die like that. I heard she lost all her hair before dying. She was 21 years old.
There is a statue of a girl called “Children’s peace monument” at Peace Park in Hiroshima. It is modeled after Sadako Sasaki who died of leukemia 10 years after the Hiroshima Atomic bomb. Sadako was 2 years old when the Atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima. I met a woman, Kazuko Yamane, who survived the atomic bomb. Kazuko was also 2 years old. Kazuko and Sadako were from the same neighborhood, 1.5 km away from ground zero, houses away from each other. Kazuko lost her older brother (5 years old) during the bomb explosion. Kazuko and Sadako both survived the explosion. Kazuko's family headed to North East of Hiroshima, as Sadako’s family headed to North West, where she encountered black rain. Sadako was diagnosed of Leukemia in February of 1955, and died in October 25th of the same year. The death of Sadako shocked community of students in Hiroshima, many shared the same experience as her. A group of her classmates petitioned to build a memorial of Sadako, the status of Children’s peace monument was built and dedicated at Hiroshima Peace Park in 1958.
At the foundation of the statue, it reads:
“This is our cry
This is our prayer
For building peace in the world.”
When I came to the United States, I was surprised to discover that most discussions regarding the atomic bombs were debates over the correctness of the actions by U.S. government in 1945. In Japan, stories of the atomic bomb survivors are never meant over the actions in past, but the actions for the future. Many Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) would not even want to remember what happened on August 6th and 9th, but they share their stories for the future: for us. So that it will not happen again to anyone else.