Letters from Hibakusha
Exposure to the A-bombing
I can't forget being exposed to the A-bombing. I was in a higher-grade at my national elementary school. On that day, it was sunny from morning. After a warning siren, I returned home, leading lower-class students who had lined up according to areas where they lived. On arriving home, I hurriedly took off my air-raid hood because it was so hot. When I took a breath, I heard the roar of an airplane, and I went up from the veranda to the laundry-hanging balcony, thinking that the enemy planes came to scatter leaflets again. A few days before, as the leaflets were scattered on the open space in the Suwa Shrine, we children rushed there to pick them up. When we reached there, three insolent military veterans stared at us holding their sabers up to the sky, saying, You are unpatriotic if you read these leaflet. Bring them to us as soon as you pick them up. We handed over what we gathered, saying, Here you are. They collected them and said, OK. OK. They asked, Aren't there any left? and left in their sidecars. Remembering this, I ran up to the platform, expecting some leaflets had fallen on my house. I looked for a while, but nothing like a leaflet seemed to be scattered there. While on the platform, I couldn't bear the heat under my feet and went down to the veranda. The moment I collected my outer wear, my work pants and my air-raid hood, which I had thrown off in the room, it flashed as if I were in the middle of a lightning. I was so surprised that I ran to the stairs. Immediately, I felt the blast with a tremendous roar echo, which shook me. My sister and I clung to each other at the stairs. All of the glass windows were broken into pieces, and roof tiles were blown off by the blast. The sky, seen through an opened hole on the roof, turned black. My elder sister was lying in bed downstairs due to a headache. She escaped injury thanks to the sliding doors which first fell on her and then the things on the shelf fell on them clattering. My younger sister and I were also safe, as we had escaped to the stairs. My mother was cleaning the bath. She hid in the bathtub pulling in my younger brother who was beside her and put the lid on. Both of them were also safe. The lid of the rice cooker was blown off, and the glass of the skylight pierced the cooked rice. We got rid of the glass carefully and ate the rice for lunch with canned food. The kitchen things were broken and messed up. After mother cleared those things, she took a break. At that time, we saw many people passing silently in front of our house with their heads down. They were wearing dark and grayish clothes, and their peeled skin was hanging from them. Among them a woman suddenly spoke to me with determination, Excuse me, and please give me water. I hurriedly poured water into a glass, which I had just washed, and handed it on the tray to her. She took a sip of it and her drawn face changed into a smile. She said, I'd like to give water to my baby on my back, too. I tried to make him drink. I said to her, Your baby is dead. She looked sad, saying, Is that so? It was as I suspected. Thank you, anyway, and staggered away on the road.
We had set up our refuge place beforehand in our neighborhood at Buzenbo at the foot of Hikosan. Walking through the alley near my house, we came to a river, which led to the Megane Bridge (a two-arched bridge) famous in Nagasaki. People gathered on the river bank, and they took a sip of water, saying, Water! Water! Many people fell into the river. We saw them floating or sinking. In Buzenbou, clean water was running out of the vertical cliff, and near the river was a humble temple. In the temple, only children from our community slept on the wooden floor, while the adults kept standing all night, saying, The Nagasaki Prefectural Office Buildings are burning. From the next day, people went down the mountain one after another. As every one had been evacuated there with only the barest necessities with nothing to eat, they said, We feel sorry to be given food. We will return home to provide for ourselves. Thank you so much. Then they climbed down the mountain. Our family also climbed down the mountain, released from the mosquitoes' biting. After picking up some commodities at home, we headed for Koga, pulling a two-wheel cart through the Himi Tunnel. The Himi Tunnel was partitioned into halves and one side was used as a factory with machines installed. A kind and hard working domestic helper, called Otora-san, once lived in our house. When she reached a marriageable age, my parents prepared her trousseau, so we fled to her parents' house for safety. They were all kind to us. We were a large family with children, so my mother asked them to find a place for us to live near their house. They offered the unused second floor of the stable so that we could live separately, preparing our own meals. Two or three days later, Otora-san managed to walk home wearily from Urakami, located near the hypocenter, spending her nights outside. Her children were also exposed to the A-bomb with her, trapped under a pillar. Hearing their cry for help, Mother, help! she had to leave them behind with fire getting closer to her back, crying Sorry, so sorry. Soon, Otora-san died and her funeral was held. As we felt uncomfortable to stay for long, we returned home. Our house hadn't burned, but tens of glass shards pieced the flagpole of the national flag of Japan inside the front door. We were so surprised to see long broken glass of 20 to 30cm stuck on the round bamboo pole. We kept it as a commemorative object of the blast for a while. However, some months later, the glass snapped after a spell of dry weather. It became dangerous so we threw it away.
After a few days, when we children were at home, a woman stranger unexpectedly stepped into our house and said, You must have had a terrible time, but you must not hold a grudge against Americans. You girls will grow up from now on. If you have hate in your mind, you cannot grow to be healthy. Give thanks for your health and don't think much of this bombing. Think that this is war. If you resent America, it will do harm on you. She talked emphatically so that we would always remember and went out. Recollecting her now, I think she might have been a religious activist.
One day, I saw many two-wheel carts passing, four sides of which were covered. Some days later, other two-wheel carts passed by again. Without intending to, I saw many feet stuck upward out of those carts; some were wearing shoes, some clogs, or others rubber-soled socks with the big toe separate. Some were wearing them on both feet, others one foot. The sturdy men were pulling those carts, looking angry with fiery eyes. Another day, a thin, pale man was pulling the last cart rumbling. He was wearing a big straw hat, looking like he was enduring sorrow, heat and stench. My father said to me, Don't look at other people's misfortune. I was absent-minded and when I was told that the people wearing shoes were dead, I was so surprised. The people, who had died enduring suffering, were being carried piled up in the carts with their heads downward and their feet upward. I felt so sorry for them. Even after days passed, such carts passed, making a rattling sound. In a moment, I wondered where they would be disposed, but I decided not to think about it. For one year after the bombing, people in Nagasaki City cremated their family members or acquaintances at the site, where houses had been demolished to prevent the spread of fire, and the cremation smoke and stench lingered around.
The national elementary school started again, and my friends told me, I didn't know if it was true or false, that on those leaflets the words, Japan is a good country, a country of paper. A country of ashes on August, 9. were written. Years later, my mother died in her fifties. She was an A-bomb survivor, exposed to the A-bombing within one kilometer from the hypocenter, and we, her children, had her name added to the A-bomb victims list in the cenotaph a long time after her death. My mother developed cancers in the organs all over her body, and it cost her a lot to get hospitalized at Kyushu University Hospital. My sister worked hard to pay for it. I heard that in those days we didn't have medicine in Nagasaki to apply on injured people. Flies laid eggs on the festered wounds, which grew up into maggots. People dipped cotton into juice of the Japanese pickled plums and Japanese basil and applied it on their burns. I heard that there were A-bomb survivors who were still sick in bed. I asked their attenders what food they gave for meals. They answered that people from Goto, Nagasaki, often gave water used to boil squid in order to remove toxins from the body, and people from Okayama gave only unsalable peaches. I remember we were made to drink tea of persimmon leaves, which was not very tasty. At that time, many survivors suffered from skin diseases, which were not easily cured. Even though one boil was cured, another appeared in a different place. The root cause of this disease was so deep that it took over one month to cure one boil.
Gods, Buddha, parents, siblings, or everyone around me, I thank you for what I am. When I recall my A-bomb experiences, I dream of them, so I don't want to write or speak again. Please think that this is the last time in my life I will write about my experiences. I wonder if this is helpful, but this is my memory of those days.
(This is the letter sent us in 2014.)