A-Bomb and Us

Recollection of days before and after the A-bombing

Dedicated to my parents who perished under the mushroom cloud on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my parentsf death @@Toshiyuki Takahashi

Translated in June 2005
English Translation: Isao Aratani and Kazuko Koyama
English Proofreading: Keith Barrs

(Hiroshima before the A-bombing)

When the year of 1945 started, the pacific war intensified and was getting into the last stage, even I became aware of the military situation worsening every day.
Whenever a young employee of Japan Power Supply Co. where my father had worked, was drafted, he came to our house to say good-bye to my father.
On such an occasion my father sometimes gave a military sword (called eShowa-shin-touf) to him and sent him off.

One day my uncle and aunt came and stayed at our house since my uncle was drafted. He was on the list to go to the front line of the battle field.
I saw them sit up late and talk about something that night. I felt ashamed that a person like my uncle, who was almost 50 years old, had to go to war and fight on the battle field.
And since my father was near-sighted, I hoped that he wouldnft have to go to war.

I left home for school without giving any gesture of parting to my uncle. But on my way to school I noticed that my uncle was waving at me, with a smile on his face from a window of the city tram.
I suddenly realized that this could be the last time I would see him, so I instantly gave him a salute.@I hoped he would fight bravely and I was determined that I should go into battle at an early date.

In those days cities of Japan had seen B-29 bombers or other aircrafts, which were from carriers, flying over the cities for air-raids every day.
Cities considerably near Hiroshima such as Kure, Okayama and Tokuyama had already experienced air raids.

However Hiroshima didnft have such air raids, but it had air-raid alarms every day.
It may sound a little childish, but we thought the reason they didnft attack us was that they had a plan to bomb a dam in the upper reaches of the Ota river so that they could kill us by causing a flood.

However, on the morning of April 30th, I heard a noise, while having breakfast., which was something like a small firework.. Then the roaring sound of explosion followed. A bomb fell nearby ! Instantly I got underneath the table and fell to the tatami mat.
Having seen my reaction, my mum said to me angrily, gyou coward! Be brave!h

Without making any remarks, I left for school. Then on my way home after school I went to the place where the bomb had fallen.
It was near Kokutaiji-temple in Zakoba-cho and the bomb had fallen onto a warehouse of Chugoku Power Supply Co. Civil defense personnel mentioned to me that it was a thousand pound (500kg) bomb and the hole produced by its explosion was about eighteen yards (17m) diameter.

One week prior to this incident, my younger brother Makoto, who was at the age of 11 and an elementary school student, moved into a rural area of northern Hiroshima and started to live in a temple with his classmates and teachers. It was conducted under the law, ethe national student evacuation programf. (Remarks *1)

At the beginning of May, my family also moved from Higashi-senda-machi to Takasu in Furutacho which was located outside of Hiroshima city. We moved as a precaution against air-raids on Hiroshima. We moved into the second floor of the house of the Ichii family.

My younger sister Kazuko became a first year student of Furuta National Elementary School.
I became a second year student of Hiroshima Second Middle School and my father kept working for Japan Power Supply Co. Chugoku branch located in Ote-machi.
Every day I felt the war situation was deteriorating greatly.

Meanwhile, the older students whom we had always feared and had been very careful to be polite to, had been mobilized to work at munitions factories and didnft show up to school. Therefore, the second grade middle school students didnft need to remember to salute the third grade students. In addition, we were now in a comfortable situation where we received salutes from the first grade students.

Classes were not held every day but we were mobilized to assist some work.
For example, we worked for the Food Depot in Ujina, a shipbuilding factory on the Kanawa island and a munitions factory in Hakushima. We also helped neighboring families with their farming, whose male family members had been sent to war, fed pigs in the Armyfs pig farm as well as cleaned the farm, dug caves beside a mountain and demolished houses and buildings to create firebreaks for precaution of air raids. (Remarks *2)
Therefore, we, even though not in the battle field, had spent days without holidays and kept working every day. We spent a week like eMonday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Fridayf, and obviously we had no Saturday and Sunday in a week.
When there was an air raid alarm, exams which we were taking were usually put off and we later had to take them again, which was very frustrating.

Since it was a very difficult time, I cannot think of any good memories of those days. However I can recall a couple of incidents, which were inscribed in my memory. They are in fragment, though. One is that I came across Prince Lee-Woo. The other is that a B24 bomber was shot down.

Prince Lee-Woo was a nephew of Prince Lee-Eun, the last Korean crown prince. He was a staff officer(Lieutenant Colonel) in education attached to the command headquarters. His quarters in the Maeda villa were in the vicinity of the house where I had been evacuated. When I happened to see him going to work on horseback, I automatically saluted him. Then surprisingly, the Prince saluted back to me in an official manner from the top of the horse, although I was just a middle school student. That was actually all that happened but I still recall the scene vividly to this day. He was also exposed to the effects of the A-bombing on his way to work on the 6th of August. He passed away on the following day.

It was on July 28th that the B-24 bomber was shot down. On that day, our exams were canceled because of an air-laid alarm. So I was swimming in the school pool when a group of B-24 bombers flied over at low altitude. The Japanese antiaircraft artillery hit the tail of one of the planes and it crashed down onto the mountain, with blowing smoke, in Istukaichi, which is a town in the west of Hiroshima city.

Before the plane crashed to the ground, we saw two or three parachutes open and go down. My classmate and I got out of the pool, put on our clothes and rushed to the place (riverbank at Kougo-oki) where those parachutes seemed to land. Then a second Lieutenant of the military police came in haste to the riverbank by horse and jumped on a boat which he had arranged. The ship rolled heavily when he jumped on and the blade of his military sword dropped into the river. I imagine that the glide clip of the sword to keep it in the case, was unhooked. We felt like we had witnessed something we shouldnft have since the incident would have been very embarrassing for him.

Besides those two things, I remember some happenings at school which I was involved in. I belonged to the chemistry club, and we used to conduct some chemical experiments at a laboratory after school. One day, I picked out a piece of sodium from a bottle placed on a shelf for chemicals and put it into water in a glass beaker. To our surprise, the piece, spinning in the water, generated hydrogen gas which caught fire from a lighted Bunsen burner (we forgot to put it out) and exploded. Shards of the glass beaker scattered and one of us got injured. The tutor rushed over to us but he didnft say anything to me, though I actually caused it and had the responsibility. I cleaned the room and went home. Then my mother found a burnt hole on the back of my uniform and asked what happened. I wondered if one of my classmates, for a joke, had dropped a little sulfuric acid on my back. I didnft mention the fuss I made at school.

One night, when I stayed at the judo hall to do school night watch, I went swimming for a break. Then I dried my swimming trunks, hanging them on the poll for hoisting the national flag. They dried quickly fluttering in the wind just like a carp-shaped streamer. At the morning assembly on the next day, however, I felt so ashamed when I stood in front of the poll for the national flag and I made an apology.

On the other hand, even with the tide of war clearly turning against Japan, I continued to have strong curiosity about everything and never forgot to have hostility toward the enemy. It was common for B29 bombers to go as a group but to Hiroshima it was usually a solo flight. Every time I looked over at a trail of smoke from a B29 bomber, I had mixed feelings. The plane in the daylight looked impressive but I felt my hostility to the US mounting and became more intent on a Japanese victory.
On the day before the Atomic bombing (August 5th, 1945), we second year students
went to Dobashi area for the demolition work of houses and buildings to create firebreaks. (Remarks 2) The task was tough and exhausting, especially on such a hot day. Our assignment on the following day (August 6th) was abruptly changed from demolition work to farm work at the East Drill Ground. Since the farm work was expected to be much less tiring, I felt so relieved that I fell fast asleep and didnft even hear an air raid siren which was sounded during the night with no knowledge of the fate which was to fall on us tomorrow.

(August 6, 1945, the fateful day)

On the morning of August 6th, my mum said to me, gToshi, today is your birthday, isnft it? Today Ifm going to Dobashi (about one mile from the hypocenter) to cleanup after the demolition work. You went and worked there yesterday, right? When I come home, I will prepare something special for your birthday.h

I left home after this conversation with my mum. It was just before seven ofclock. She also went out to work with neighbors including Mrs. Ichii, a wife of our landlord, as part of the national volunteer corp. My younger sister Kazuko left for Furuta national elementary school.

My father left for work at the usual time, though he didnft need to since the air raid alarm was sounded during the night. He could have left home one hour later. As for me, there was farm work waiting for me. It was at the East Drill Ground in the north of Hiroshima station.

It was around the Aioi bridge (very close to the hypocenter), while the city tram was passing by, that I heard an air raid siren, but nothing happened. When I was crossing the railroad after I got off the tram at Hiroshima station, I heard, from listening to other peoplefs conversation, that the alarm had been canceled. I never took it seriously, I mean, an enemy plane flying over us.

I got to the farm and students were gradually gathering for a roll-call, facing Mt. Futaba.
It was at that time that I saw a B29 airplane flying much lower than usual and I had a feeling that something would happen.
Then I noticed that two to three parachutes were falling down in the right of the sky.
I kept looking up at the sky wondering if they were again distributing their propaganda leaflets. A teacher shouted, gdonft look up!h.

Then, suddenly we were engulfed by a yellow flash. I fell to the ground, unconsciously covering my eyes, ears and nose with both hands. I had no idea how much time had passed but after a while I sat up and looked around. It was dark. What happened, I thought. I couldnft see the faces of my classmates well. Was it a direct hit of an incendiary bomb? If so, a hole would have been made but I couldnft find any. When I looked up at the sky in the east, I saw a huge gathering of black-gray cumulonimbus-like clouds around the place where the airplane had left. I thought gthe airplane must have exploded in the air, hurray!h

After the initial confusion wore off, I began to feel pain on my left cheek. I touched it and found a blister, which then burst. Besides my cheek, the back of my right hand as well as my left ankle had suffered burns. I felt angry. Listening to the announcement of the cancellation of work, I went up Mt. Futaba for refuge and got to Toushou shrine which is located in the middle of the mountain. I was astonished at the view from there. The city was dim as if it was at sunset or in the middle of a solar eclipse and so silent.

I worried about my parents. So I went down the mountain and headed for the center of the city. I saw, one after another, injured people coming toward me from the direction of Hiroshima station. There was a train at the sidetrack on the East Drill Ground. The passenger cars were overturned while the engine car remained standing. Classmates got together in twos and threes, talking loudly to each other, something like gwas it a bomb explosion or a new type of lethal weapon utilizing beams?h

Then I realized that leaves around us started to go on fire. I decided to take refuge with Nakamura, one of my classmates who happened to be on the same tram that morning. We were in the eastern area of the city and my house was located in the western area. We decided to take a detour to avoid crossing the center of the city so we headed to the north. We found the road was filled with injured people who were staggering and tumbling as well as various carts carrying the seriously wounded. Among those injured people, I saw people who had their stomachs ripped open and their organs, pink and looking like ham, exposed. Everyone was silent and kept walking without a word. I felt so miserable. Then I saw a B-29 bomber, as usual, flying over us and flying away, leaving a trail of smoke in the sky.

I kept walking and walking. Then at maybe around 2 pm, we saw the Ota river. Fewer refugees were around us. I suddenly realized I should go home. We crossed a bridge(the Suichuu bridge), which sank in water when the tide was high. We walked south to the center of the city alongside a riverbank. There were injured people lying all around the riverbank. They were gasping and crying for water. But somebody shouted, gDonft give them water! They will die if they drink water.h

I reached the Sanyou railway line at about 5 pm. There was a soldier standing there but we didnft know whether he was alive or dead. His clothes were entirely burnt off except for a belt and military shoes. He was hanging both hands down and never moved. We got across a river walking over the railroad bridge. Then we, Nakamura and I, separated at Nishi-Hiroshima and I arrived home.

No houses in this area collapsed but strangely the roof-tiles facing west, the opposite side of Hiroshima city slipped down. I, in haste, went upstairs where we were living but nobody was there. The ceiling board was hanging down, Tatami mats were risen and pieces of glasses were scattered.
I looked for my family around my house for a while. Then a member of the neighborhood association told me that my mum was in the drawing room at Ichiifs house. My mum was injured and lying down though she seemed relieved to see my face. She said, gYou suffered burns, didnft you? Your father is safe and he is at a company house at Kusatsu (transformer) substation now. Please go and see him.h My sister, Kazuko, who had escaped injury, was sitting anxiously beside our mother. I went to the substation and saw my father. People there were working so busy and so hard that, even though I was a child, I understood the amount of responsibilities my father was carrying out and I felt I shouldnft disturb him. So I went home and told my mother what I saw. I think all three of us slept together with relief that night. What a birthday it was!

(Several days after the A-bombing)

I donft remember well about what happened during the two to three days after the bombing. My parents were injured seriously but I thought it wasnft life-threatening. I suffered burns only on my face and some other places and my sister, though frightened, escaped injury. Somehow, I thought, everybody was alright. I dug rapeseed oil, which was buried in the ground for emergency use and applied it to the burns on my cheek, neck and the back of my hand. To this day, I remember those days whenever I smell tempura oil on a hot day in the summer.

Members of the neighborhood association, my fatherfs colleagues, and Mr. Yamamoto from the substation often called on us and gave us food, medicine such as Rivanol yellow gauze, Mercurochrome (so-called red tincture) and skin ointments and other things. I heard that Mrs. Ichii, the wife of our landlord, passed away. I wondered if my mother knew about that.

I think it was on August 9th, while I was taking care of my motherfs burns, that I mentioned to her about going to the schools, which my brother and I went to, to see what they were like. I asked my sister to look after my mother and went into the city.

The area in and around Higashi Senda-machi, where we had lived until April, was entirely burnt out and its look had completely changed. Some buildings including the Post Office Savings Bank and the Red Cross Hospital hadnft collapsed but had suffered serious damages. The school my brother went to was completely destroyed and I could only see wreckage and a destroyed steel framework which had possibly been the school auditorium or gym. There was no liaison office set up. Judging from the state of this area I thought he wouldnft have survived if he hadnft evacuated to a rural area before. From where I was I could see the wreckage of trams in the garage of Hiroshima Electric Railway Co., Ltd..

Then I dropped by my school, Hiroshima second middle school(located in Nishikannon-cho, 1.8km from the hypocenter). Most of the school buildings were burnt down. When I was chatting with some of my classmates who also visited our school on that day, the schoolmaster, Mr.Fruta, found us. Seeing us with our faces and necks covered in iodine or mercurochrome, and our arms in slings, he said to us, gYou second year students all seem injured in the same way. I suppose all of you must have looked up at the sky when the bomb fell. Even so, you were lucky though. Ifve heard that the first year students, who were engaging in demolition work, were all killed.h We, the surviving students, reported our names and the class names to him. Then we were told to stay home for the time being. The scene I saw on this day in Hiroshima made me feel miserable and distressed.

When I returned home, I saw my father laying down in the drawing room. He had been taken home by car. I told my parents what I saw during the day. We had a visit from my fatherfs colleague. According to him, Fukuyama city experienced air raids on August 8th and incendiary bombs burned his original house but all family members escaped injury. When he heard this, my father gave a wry smile and said. gOur household effects which we had moved as a precaution against air raids must have been burnt and lost.h

(August 15th, The day the war ended)

In those days, around the end of the war, my parents were bedridden upstairs. On August 15th, my father said that there would be a very important announcement on the radio around noon. It was the first time that I had heard the emperorfs voice but it was garbled and difficult to catch what he was saying. Even though, I managed to understand Japanfs surrender so I couldnft help saying, gJapan has lost!h Then my father replied gDonft say such a thing.h but didnft say anything more. Everyone fell silent.

After that day, B-29 bombers no longer came over head. Bodies were burnt day and night in open spaces nearby. Itfs a pity that my parents and I didnft talk about what happened on the day. I didnft ask my father how he managed to get to the substation, which was out side of Hiroshima, from his power company which was located in the city. Also I didnft ask my mother how she managed to get home with other members of the neighborhood association from the city. Curiously they never mentioned it and I didnft, either. It is regrettable to this day.

(My parentsf death)

After August 20th or so, my aunt came from Notohara (South of Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture). Since my parents were in bed and my sister was little, my aunt took me to her house. There I could see a doctor and have my wounds taken care of. Applying ointment and red tincture to my burns, or putting pieces of cucumbers on them, I was always concerned about my parents, little sister and my brother who were still in the country side on the evacuation program. I was also concerned about my school.

On the morning of August 30th my uncle, who lived in Goryou (north of Fukuyama
City), cycled to my auntfs house. He looked at my face and had a brief talk with my aunt secretly, then left quickly for his home by bike. I felt that something had happened.

Soon after, my aunt took my cousin and me to Matsunaga station (near Fukuyama city) and got on a train. On the train she didnft tell me anything and I was afraid to ask her. The train had been delayed because it was crammed with passengers. In addition, it was further delayed due to long stops at several stations, so I think we arrived at Hiroshima station at the dawn of 31st. It was drizzling. After the train passed Hiroshima Station, I was looking at the devastated city in the dark from the train deck. When the train got to the area near Yokogawa station (the next station to Hiroshima), suddenly it became very bright. I found it was because phosphorescence was shining here and there. I had never seen such a sight before.

Finally we arrived at Nishi-Hiroshima station. We hurried to my house and ran upstairs, where all our relatives were gathered together. My parents were in bed individually in separate rooms. My mother smiled at me, however, her arms were swollen purple and couldnft take any injections of nutritional supplements. When I went to my fatherfs side, he said something to me but I couldnft hear it, however he then gently smiled at me.
I simply couldnft understand this situation at all. They seemed to have been recovering when I left home to stay at my auntfs. How had they fallen into such a critical condition after a week or ten days or so!?

My aunt, who had been beside my mother, suddenly told me, gToshi-chan, Hurry!h. I got near to my mother. Then she said to me gTake care of your younger brother and sister and May you all live together in harmony with each otherh. She gave me her last smile then drew her last breath. Her face looked peaceful in death. I think it was about 4 am.

My father seemed to realize my mumfs death from the atmosphere around and it seemed he felt his time had come. He had already lost capability of speaking, but asked people around him by gestures to sit him up. He bowed his head to the east where the emperor resided. He mouthed something and smiled at everyone. Then his neck jolted down. He passed away. It was around 5 pm. Someone said, gJudging from the movement of his lips, he must have said gh his majesty the emperor, banzai.hh. He added that he died a peaceful death.

I went downstairs and helplessly sat down. No tears came out. I couldnft think about my brother and sister though it was my motherfs last request.
I heard people sobbing upstairs. Then my uncle, who was from Johge-cho (north of Fukuyama City), came downstairs and told me in a strong tone not to worry about anything and took me back upstairs. Actually my parents passed away right after I returned from Notohara as if they had waited to die until they saw me again.

My fatherfs company sent us two coffins on September 1st and we cremated my parents on a field nearby on the hill. Somebody took a Buddhist monk and he recited a Sutra for my parents. I found lots of shards of glasses in my fatherfs ashes when we picked them up.

My aunt, who was a member of the head family, visited the leader of the Neighborhood Association with me to report what happened to my parents. We were told that my mother was the last to pass away of the thirteen members who went to the demolition work on that day. The leader looked at my burns and uniform and asked, gYou are a student of Hiroshima Second Middle School, arenft you?h Then he suddenly fell silent.

Several days later I heard that a rumor had been going around. It said that due to radiation, people who were exposed to the effects of the A-bombing would start losing their hair, bleeding from their gums and, in the course of time, they all would die even if they seemed in good shape before. My state of mind became similar to that of a death row inmate who was waiting for execution. This was probably because I lost my parents, the war was lost, and because of the rumor which suggested that I would contract radiation sickness such as blood poisoning and eventually die. I was in such a hopeless situation.
By Toshiyuki Takahashi

(Remarks *1) Pupilsf Evacuation Program
In 1945, during the last stages of the War, with the threat of incendiary bombing, Hiroshima City began the evacuation of elementary students above the third grade (3,4,5 and 6 grade) into the rural districts. Pupils who had relatives residing in the countryside went to their houses. Pupils who didnft have such relatives were sent to live collectively in rural temples and other facilities located in rural areas. This evacuation saved pupilsf lives from the A-bomb but many lost their families and became orphans. They are called the eAtomic bomb orphansf.

(Remarks *2) The demolition of buildings and houses to make firebreaks as a precaution against air raids
In urban areas, wooden houses and structures were demolished to create fire lanes as a precaution against incendiary bombing. In Hiroshima, about 16,000 private houses were demolished. First and second grade junior high school students and the members of the neighborhood associations (mainly housewives) were mobilized to this work and many of them were killed by the Atomic bomb since they were directly exposed to the effects of the A-bombing in the open.
The demolition work aimed to protect citizenfs lives from air raids but ended up greatly increasing the number of casualties as a result of the Atomic bombing.

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