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My A-bomb Experience and the Spirit of Hiroshima
by Akihiro Takahashi*, July 1998

In the past, Japan inflicted indescribable suffering and deep sorrow on China and other countries of Asia. Fundamentally, responsibility for war damage inflicted by Japan clearly lies with the Japanese government. I believe that we as individual human beings, however, should not neglect to reflect on this matter. Though I was only a youth, I believe it is essential for me, as a Japanese who was alive at the time, to fully reflect on and etch in my mind the lessons of Japan's invasion and war and our colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

August 6, 1945, I was fourteen years old, in my second year of middle school. I was standing in the schoolyard 1.4 kilometers from the hypocenter with about 150 other students. Suddenly, with a tremendous roar, everything went pitch black. At length, the smoke cleared and I could see the schoolyard again. I had been blown backward about 10 meters by the blast. My classmates toohad been blown forward, backward, left or right. They were fallen and scattered all around. The school building was a low pile of rubble. The surrounding houses had also vanished. Except for a few large buildings in the distance everything had vanished. For an instant I thought, "The whole city's gone!"

As I came to my senses, I examined my own body. My uniform was burned to shreds. I had serious burns on the back of my head, my back, both arms, and both legs. The skin of both of my hands had peeled off and was dangling down on strips, revealing raw, red flesh underneath. Pieces of glass were protruding from my body in several places. Suddenly, I was attacked by an unfamiliar sense of horror. In a matter of minutes I was heading for the river as fast as I could go. Not long on my way, I heard someone calling my name. Looking around, I saw my classmate Tatsuya Yamamoto. We used to walk to school together every day. Now, he was seeking help, crying, "Mama, Mama...help me!" I said, "Stop crying! We just have to get out of here!" And with me alternating between scolding and encouraging, we fled together toward the river.

I saw a line of survivors looking dazed, dragging their legs wearily and pressing toward me. Their peeled arms dangled oddly in front of them, and their clothes were in tatters. Many were virtually naked. I couldn't even see them as human; I felt I was watching a grotesque procession of ghosts. I saw one man with hundreds of glass shards piercing his body from the waist up. The skin of another man had peeled off his entire upper body, exposing a mass of red flesh. A woman was covered in blood, one eyeball grotesquely dangling out of its socket. Next to a mother whose skin had completely peeled off lay a loudly crying baby, its entire body burnt. Corpses were scattered everywhere. A dead woman's internal organs had burst out onto the ground around her. It was all so utterly gruesome, a living hell indescribable in words. We continued to head resolutely for the river.

But all the streets and pathways leading to the riverbank were blocked by the wreckage of toppled houses. It often seemed impossible to get through. In a mindless state of utter desperation we crawled on all fours over and through the ruins until at last we managed to find the river. Luckily, just where we emerged on the bank we found a small wooden bridge that had miraculously withstood the blast.

Then it happened, just as we were stepping out onto the bridge. Tongues of fire burst violently out from the collapsed houses on both sides of the street. As we stood and gaped, the whole riverside transformed into a sea of fire. Crackling loud as thunder, towering pillars of fire shot up towards the heavens, like the eruption of a volcano. Fortunately we were beyond the reach of the conflagration, but my friend Yamamoto had somehow vanished.

Finally I escaped to the other side of the river where there wasn't any fire. Having reached relative safety, the intensity of my flight subsided somewhat, and I was suddenly aware that my whole body was burning hot. To ease the pain I went down to the river, dipping myself three times. The cool water of the river was to my scorched body an exquisite, priceless balm. "Ah, I'm saved!" And with that thought, for the first time, my tears flowed and would not stop. I came up from the river and was guided to a temporary relief station hastily set up in a bamboo grove. There I received some minimal first aid and rested a while. As I sat there it started to rain, the first black rain I had ever seen. Huge drops that made a big noise when they fell. I just watched, bewildered, thinking, "Is there really such a thing as black rain?" I waited for it to stop, then started walking home.

After a while, again I heard someone calling my name. I turned and saw Tokujiro Hatta, another friend who used to walk to school with Yamamoto and me. "Takahashi, help me! Take me home with you!" he begged, groaning. For some reason, the soles of his feet were burned so badly that the skin had peeled, revealing the red flesh beneath. He certainly couldn't walk. Though I myself was seriously burned, I was not the sort to abandon a friend and continue on my way alone. I decided immediately to take Hatta along with me. But how? Luckily, though his feet were burned, the rest of his body had escaped serious burns or cuts. After considering the possibilities for a while, I decided there were two ways to get him home without having his feet touch the ground: one was to have him crawl on his hands and knees; the other was to lean him back on his heels while I supported him. Thus we began our trek, alternating between these two methods. Plodding along slower than cows, step after agonizing step, somehow we managed to help each other along. At one point, overcome by fatigue, we were forced to sit by the road and rest. For no particular reason I looked back over my shoulder. "Hey! Isn't that my great aunt and uncle? They're coming this way!" I used every ounce of strength I could muster to shout to them, and they stopped. They were on their way home from a memorial service in the country. Our meeting was a complete coincidence. With their help we made it home.

Once home, I collapsed in a coma and remained unconscious for three weeks. Later, I was treated by a doctor--an ear, nose, and throat specialist--who came to our house morning and night to see me. Ordinarily, severe burns would not be treated by an otolaryngologist, but with nearly all the doctors and nurses in the city either dead or incapacitated, I was extremely fortunate to receive treatment from any sort of doctor at all. I battled my burns and disease for a year and a half, hovering between life and death. A Japanese saying goes, "Nine deaths for one life, " and that was precisely my experience. My friends passed from this world with acute radiation sickness: Tokujiro Hatta two days later, and Tatsuya Yamamoto after one month-and-a-half.

I have survived these many years, but my right elbow and the fingers of my right hand except for my thumb are bent and immobile. Keloid scars remain on my back, arms and legs. The cartilage in my ears deteriorated from the blood and pus that collected there, leaving my ears deformed. I continue to grow a "black nail" from the first finger of my right hand. (You may have seen two samples of this "black nail" that fell off and are on display at the Peace Memorial Museum.) Further, I am afflicted with chronic hepatitis, a liver infection that is a nationally recognized aftereffect of the bomb. I have been hospitalized ten times since 1971. Besides my liver problem, I am afflicted with numerous other ailments and cannot help but constantly worry about my health.

While struggling with this frail and damaged body, I have often wondered in despair, "Do I really need to live with all this pain?" But each time I have answered, "But you've already come so far." And that thought has kept me going. Of my sixty classmates that day, fifty were cruelly slaughtered by the atomic bomb. To date, I have confirmed the survival of only thirteen of us; I am one of the very few still alive.

"I cannot let the deaths of my classmates be in vain. I must be the voice conveying their silent cries to the generations to come. As a survivor, this is my mission and my duty." These ideas are engraved on my heart, and I have lived to this day repeating such words to myself continually. My friends were helplessly sacrificed to the atomic bomb without ever reaching adulthood. They died writhing in agony. Their short, young lives abruptly ended. Such enormous sorrow. Such horrible frustration.

Among humankind's abilities, it is said imagination is the weakest and forgetfulness the strongest. We cannot by any means, however, forget Hiroshima, and we cannot lose the ability to abolish war, abolish nuclear weapons, and imagine a world of peace. Hiroshima is not just a historical fact. It is a warning and lesson for the future. We must overcome the pain, sorrow, and hatred of the past, we must conquer the argument that the damage inflicted and the damage incurred in the name of war were justifiable, we must conquer the logic that the dropping of the atomic bomb was justifiable. We must convey the Spirit of Hiroshima-- the denial of war and hope for the abolition of nuclear weapons--throughout Japan and throughout the world. I sincerely hope you have understood the Spirit of Hiroshima. I will always be praying for your steadfast efforts and progress toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.


* Mr. Takahashi is a former director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and former director of the program division of the Hiroshima Peace Cultural Foundation.

 

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