'My experience of the atomic bombing and message of the Hibakusha'
A child when Hiroshima was flattened, Reiko Yamada is determined to see an end to nuclear weapons
On August 6, 1945, when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, I was an 11-year-old girl, 5th grader of a primary school.
That morning, I was in the schoolyard under the blazing summer sun. “Look, a B29!” a boy shouted, and I looked up in the sky and saw the silver-shining B29 bomber flying high in the blue sky, drawing a white arc with its vapor trail. “That’s pretty,” I thought. The next moment there was a white flash and I was blinded.
As I began to rush for an air-raid shelter, the hot sand blew strong against my back and pushed my body down on the ground. When I reached the shelter with my schoolmates, it was already crowded with people from neighboring areas, and there was no room left for us. While waiting outside, we got drenched from the sudden rain, which we later learned to be the radioactive “Black Rain”. We were wet and shivering with cold. The sun looked to be gone with heavy gray clouds hanging over the sky.
Our town was 2.5 kilometers from ground zero and escaped from raging fires caused by the bomb. Many injured and burned people fled to this area from the city center. They were so heavily burned and disfigured that they did not look like human beings. Every street in our town was so crowded with the injured that there was no room for us to walk.
My father was inside a school building about 1 kilometer away from the center of the explosion. He was rescued from under a fallen building and managed to make it back home, but he was bloodied all over his body due to wounds caused by pieces of broken glass. Even years later, fragments of glass would emerge from the skin of my father’s body and make him faint. Twenty years after the bombing, he developed lung cancer and leukemia simultaneously. Despite blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants donated by me my father died, in a flurry of convulsions.
My eldest sister, who was caught by the bomb on the platform of Hiroshima Station, 1.5 kilometers from ground zero, came back home in the evening of the second day. She got burns on the neck and back. As we had no medicine to treat her with, my mother put thin slices of cucumbers on her back to cool down the burns, but she only kept crying out in pain, unable to lie down with upper half of her body naked and sore.
My 13-year-old third sister was sick on that day and stayed at home, so fortunately she escaped death. But all her teachers and schoolmates, who had been mobilized to work near the city center on that day died.
Almost every family in my neighborhood had victims of the bomb. They got injured or burned and many were missing. A good friend of mine in the neighborhood was waiting for her mother to return home with 4 brothers and sisters. On the second day after the bombing, a moving black lump crawled into the house; they first thought it was a big black dog, but soon realized it was their mother. She collapsed and died when she finally got home, leaving her 5 children behind. At another neighbor’s home, a 13-year-old daughter did not come home. Day after day, her mother went to look for her around Hiroshima City for about two months, but in vain.
From around the third day, the dead bodies lying in the streets were brought to the playground of my school. They were cremated one after another. The town was filled with black smoke and the smell of burning bodies. According to the records, about 2,300 bodies were cremated there, but without being identified by name, all of them were treated as missing.
Japan’s defeat in World War II was announced on August 15 and the war ended, but the shortage of food continued. In my school, in the spring of the following year, we planted sweet potato seedlings in the schoolyard. On the day of harvest, as we dug the ground, human bones came out with potatoes and we screamed to see them. The sweet potatoes were served for lunch, but we could not eat them.
With the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, a total of 600,000 people were exposed to intense heat rays, blasts and radiation. By the end of that year, about 140,000 people died in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki. As many as 42% of them had not been identified by name, and were recorded only as unidentified victims.
Those of us, the Hibakusha, who narrowly survived on those two days vividly remember those who desperately cried for help and died cruelly. We are still tormented by remorse that we could not help them. Many have suffered discrimination for being the Hibakusha and had to give up getting married or having children. Still now, many of us continue to suffer from health problems which are regarded as aftereffects of radiation.
Nuclear weapons are absolutely inhuman weapons. We Hibakusha cannot accept the existence of such absolutely evil weapons on the globe.
For over 60 years, with the pledge to “save humanity from its crisis through the lessons learned from our experiences”, we have called for the abolition of nuclear weapons to ensure that “there should be no more Hibakusha anywhere in the world”.
However, it is reported that there are still 15,000 nuclear warheads in the possession of nuclear-armed states.
At the beginning of this year, the United States and China emphasized that they would enhance their nuclear forces, which is heightening the sense of crisis in the world. A U.S. scientific magazine announced that it moved the “Doomsday Clock”, a symbolic countdown to the end of the world, to two and a half minutes to midnight.
In this context, the U.N. conference has just started in New York to negotiate a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. We sincerely hope that the governments of all the nuclear-armed states, as well as Japan as the A-bombed country, will join the negotiations and make sincere efforts to discuss and conclude the treaty to ban all nuclear weapons.
We believe that it is the power of us citizens that can put pressure on and change the policy of the nuclear weapon states and Japan. That’s why we the Hibakusha launched last year the “International Hibakusha Appeal Signature Campaign for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons”, and urging as many people around the world as possible to join this signature campaign.
We sincerely ask for your cooperation in support of this campaign. Thank you.
Reiko Yamada is the Vice-Chairperson of TOYUKAI
Tokyo Federation of A-bomb Survivors Organizations