Letters from Hibakusha
Yoshiko Hatani (Kyoto)
I was born in 1935. When I was 10 years old, I was A-bombed and trapped under the school building at Minami National Elementary School in Hiroshima. During the war, teachers and students cultivated the grounds to grow vegetables. To get fertilizer, we pulled carts around the neighbors, collected garbage and buried it in holes. Students in schools around town were evacuated into the countryside for their protection.
I was born in Osaka. Our house was totally destroyed in the fire by a large-scale air attack and my mother, third eldest sister and me, the fourth daughter, went to my eldest sister's house in Hiroshima. As our father was at a military factory in Himeji, my brother was working at the South Manchuria Railway Company and her husband had gone to the front in China, we started a new life as just four women. The second sister stayed at a temple in Osaka. There was an army camp near my eldest sister's house, and a lieutenant, called Mr. Inoue, who belonged to the Akatsuki Corps, boarded on the second floor of the house.
Before soldiers headed for the battlefields from Ujina Port, they stayed in our school buildings which were not used because of the students' evacuation. When they left, we waved good-bye to them. Thinking back on it, I feel a stabbing pain in my heart. How did those soldiers feel when we waved to them?
On August 6, 1945, I stayed at home because an air-raid warning was issued in the morning. Finally, it was cleared and I went to school. On that day, I was supposed to clean the nurse's office. I went to the room on the third floor and started cleaning with my teacher. Then, we heard a roar of airplanes. We looked up at the sky, saying, The air raid warning was cleared, but….are they Japanese airplanes? It was 8:15. Then we saw a horrible flash.
The teacher told me, Get out now and ran out down the corridor. When I went down on the seventh step of the stairs, I heard a tremendous roar and everything went black. Time stopped. Not knowing how much time passed, I came to. It was pitch-dark and I couldn't move my whole body except the tips of my fingers. My nose was stuffed up with something and I couldn't breathe enough. What happened to me? What should I do? The harder I tried to move, the more my body ached. I thought that as I was on the seventh step of the stairs, I had to let somebody know about it and ask for help. I cried out dozens of times, Help me. I am on the seventh step.
In my dream, our family's Buddhist altar appeared in front of me and I saw my mother in it. She said, My dear, come to me if you want to be free of terrible pain.
Me: I cannot move. How can I go to you?
Mother: You can come if you bite your tongue.
I tried hard to bite my tongue, but couldn't. Then, I bit my lip as hard as possible. After a while, warm water came into my mouth. I thought I could go to my mother.
In my dream, I am on a truck which runs at a furious speed.
Again, I am on the truck running at a furious speed.
I am on the truck again, and when I fell off it, I came to. It was pitch-dark and I couldn't move. Then I heard a subtle creak above my head. I cried out as loudly and repeatedly as possible, Help me! I am on the seventh step!
In my dream, I was in the seed of a big pickled plum and someone was sawing it.
I was awakened by small voices. I slightly heard several men saying, Bring a wet cloth. Blindfold her. It is no good for her eyes to see the light now.
Those voices came from people who helped me out of the collapsed building. I was rescued at around one o'clock in the afternoon. Hearing my cry, Help me. I am on the seventh step of the stairs, they came to help me. I think my life is a gift from them. I would like to spend the rest of my life, thanking them with my family.
I heard from my sister about how I had been rescued from the school building. A man heard my voice and said to a school staff member, I can hear a child's cry here. It says, 'Help me. I am on the seventh step.' I don't know where the stairway is, so please tell me. Soldiers staying in the school buildings which were not used at that time, also helped me. I also heard the lieutenant who stayed in my sister's house, worried and looked for me with his subordinates. While they were trying to rescue me, they found three other children's bodies, which brought all of them to tears. I heard the teacher who had been cleaning with me died a miserable death. If she had been with me, she could have survived. Those were our fates.
My sister said she couldn't find the words to thank soldiers because the last child they had found was me.
My eldest sister was injured all over by the glass fragments, which were blown off by the blast. My third sister was exposed to heat rays and burned on one side of her body. Keloid scars remained on her. I couldn't walk for one year and needed my family's help. I had bad scars on my body. After I was rescued, I was brought into a building where people whose skin was hanging like a rag, walked around asking for water. I cannot erase that scene in my mind even today. Finally, I was able to walk and went to the Red Cross Hospital in Osaka. At that time, doctors and patients came to see me because they had rarely seen A-bomb survivors. Although I was only a child, I remember I had mixed feelings. When I see the scenes like collapsed buildings, I feel pain in my heart. Doctors said that was caused by trauma.
I had never expected that I would write a memoir at my age. However, once I started writing, scenes at that time came to mind as if they had happened yesterday. The tears flowed ceaselessly.
8:15 a.m. ? 1:00 p.m.
-the moment of the flash
-I ran down seven steps of the stairs.
-The school buildings collapsed by the blast.-I bit my lip and warm water came into my mouth.
-I had the same dream three times in which I was on a truck.
-In my third dream, I was thrown off the truck and I heard creaks above my head when people walked.
-I cried out for help, saying I am on the seventh step.
-I was in the seed of a big pickled plum. I heard the sound of a saw.
-I heard people's voices when I was rescued.
-I was rescued at around one in the afternoon.
While I was writing these, the tears flowed ceaselessly. My husband, who was reading a book by my side, encouraged me to write what I experienced. He thought I could feel relieved by writing about the sorrows, sufferings and fears which I had for the last 69 years.
Writing my memoir, I said to him, I am wondering whether I can convince people that a 10-year-old child could have a precise memory like this. He gave me a supportive push, saying, It doesn't matter how other people feel. You should write your truth for the past 69 years. I thought this would be the last chance for me, so I wrote this memoir.
(This is the letter sent us in 2014.)