Letters from Hibakusha
Etsuji Mochida (Tokyo)
I was brought up in Kawara-machi, Hiroshima until I was in the 4th grade of elementary school. My house was one-story, and there were big carp in the pond in the courtyard. I could hear my mother playing the koto when I came home from school. It made me happy, so that I could go to play outside after carefully leaving my school bag inside the house. I had a brother, Asao. He was two years older than me. We would go fishing in the Tenma River to catch gobies. As it was fifty years ago, I have only a dim memory, but Kanzaki National Elementary School, which was my school, was an old, two-story building and had a long history. The evacuation of pupils had been decided in March, 1945, so our school evacuated to the community center in Imayoshida, Yoshizaka Village, Yamagata County, Hiroshima. The teachers also came to stay with us. We went to the National Elementary School in Imayoshida from April of that year.
On August 6, 1945, at 7:45 a.m., we left for nearby mountains to collect pine- roots for oil with the teachers. After a while, the air raid alert was sounded and we heard a B-29 bomber coming. Because we were high up on a path where we could see Hiroshima City, or because the head of our line stopped, all of us in a line could watch the bomber flying lower, to the left in the distance. Just when I saw a parachute falling, there was a flash of light and a roaring. Then a kind of gigantic columns of clouds appeared in the sky. That night, Hiroshima city turned red due to the fire, brightening as the night passed. Our teacher told us that a strange bomb was dropped on the city. A couple of pupils' parents from the devastated city turned up from that midnight to the early morning. Their bodies were burned and they only said, All Hiroshima is in ashes, I got here at last, I don't know what happened, It's hell! and so on. Five or six days later, my father came, wearing his national uniform with puttees. He was fine without injuries or burns though he looked a bit tired, saying, Your mother is fine. Asao is missing. We desperately looked for him at the grounds of his school. The situation was chaotic. Now, your mother is in Midorii Village, where we brought our belongings. After some conversation, he said that he would go back to Hiroshima because he was chairman of the Kawara-machi neighborhood association and would come again later to pick me up. Then he left. The pupils from the evacuation group also left there day by day. On August 15, my father came again to pick me up and took me to Midorii Village, where my mother stayed. She didn't have injuries and burns, but lost her hair. She was lying on the bed and kept crying, Etsuji…... I went with my father to Kawara-machi, where my house was, and to the Hiroshima First Middle School. We finally found my brother's aluminum lunch box, printed with a pine tree, plum tree and Mt. Fuji. We brought it home to remember my brother. The city was reduced to rubble and burned-out streetcars were left miserably. My father was so tired that he often stayed in bed.
My mother's diarrhea started, and at 12:15 a.m. on September 5, she passed away peacefully while my father and I sat by her bedside. My father asked me, Would you like to live in Dogo (hot spring area) together? and then kept quiet. That night, (September 6), my mother's body, father and I slept together. I suddenly woke up and felt strange. I tried to wake up my father, but he already had died. I felt such a sense of loss that I couldn't even cry. That was at 4:30 a.m. in the morning on September 7. My father told me that my mother's parents' house or some relatives were in Funairi-machi and Danbara-machi, but it was difficult to find because both had been burned out. My father was born in Suzaka, Nagano as the eldest son, but he handed over his position as head of the family to his younger brother. After he graduated from school, he went to Russia, China and Korea. As he was part of the army, he moved his family register to Hiroshima. Two days after he died, the landlady came to see me and said coldly, It's summer, so…. She took me to the room where our evacuated belongings were stored. There were a couple of paintings of carp and of the Asian continent, two large cameras, a chest of drawers and a koto. She pointed to the items, asking which to sell. I told her clearly, Please take them all, and cremate my parents at a good temple. My mother's body had no damage. The crematory was in the small mountain one kilometer away from our place (It is the back yard of the biggest temple in Midorii, Asaminami ward, Hiroshima). First, my father's body was placed on the firewood and cremated. When it was my mother's turn, her leg rose. I shouted, She is alive! After that, I was left all alone in the world holding my parents' ashes and my brother's lunch box. Thinking in my small head, I wondered why my parents died earlier than others, even though they hadn't been burned or hurt because they had been in the house. There were many people who had evacuated to nearby farmer's houses, picking away maggots in their burn wounds, lots of their hair falling out and getting thinner with vacant eyes. Five or six of them had known my parents for a long time. Only one of them died. The rest of them survived and encouraged me because I was left alone, saying, You should have a strong will to survive. Still, the question repeated in my mind, Why did my parents die earlier than others? I didn't attend school since I came to Midorii village. I was sure that my father had reported my brother's death, but I didn't report my parents' passing. It was not until November that I got a letter from my uncle. When I met my uncle for the first time, I was so glad not because he was a close relative by blood but because he was the only person who understood me. I told him that I had cremated my parents, so I understood my parents were dead. My brother was said to have died instantly on the grounds of the Hiroshima First Middle School but I felt that he was alive. I asked my uncle a serious favor, I can't leave Hiroshima until I make sure whether my brother is alive or not. He might be in a hospital. I want to look for him again. I want you to come along with me and help look for him. I thought that would be difficult for him due to his work, but I kept asking. He was planning to pay a visit to the family grave in Suzaka, Nagano and hold a memorial service for my parents. Although he muttered that he had to spend the extra time because of my request, he decided to stay one more day to help me.
The First Middle School had changed since the last time I had visited with my father. There were a few teachers who had lists of students' names. I asked them about my brother. They said that all of the students, they believed, died instantly because the first-year students had gathered on the school grounds for the morning assembly before going to mobilization. They didn't know if their colleagues survived, roughly telling me where the second-year students or some classes went for mobilization. With hesitation and uneasiness, I had to give up. However, when I left Hiroshima I still had a gleam of hope that my brother might have survived.
(This is the letter sent us in 2014.)