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Messages from Hiroshima

Japanese version

Hiromasa Hirata (male)
'Chokubaku'  1.8 km from the hypocenter / 7 years old at the time / current resident of Kanagawa

The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages. Recollections of Wartime Experiences and Exposure to Radiation

I entered Minami Elementary School in Hiroshima in the spring of the year when Japan surrendered. When I was four, my father, who was a government official in Manchukuo, died young. So, my mother and the three of us (my older sister, my younger sister, and myself) were taken to my mother's parents' house in Minami-machi. My older sister was in the third grade and my younger sister was to enter school next year.

The house where we were taken care of was on the eastern side the Kyobashi River, a tributary of the Ota River in the delta area of Hiroshima. There was a road along the embankment and slightly on the lower part of the side slope was our house, surrounded by a concrete wall. Up the river, there was Hijiyama Bridge and down the river, the Miyuki Bridge. Our house was closer to the upstream side, about one-third of the distance between the two bridges. There was a huge gas tank downstream. The place was about 1.8 kilometers [1.1 miles] from the hypocenter of the atomic bombing.

The flying of B-29 bombers and carrier-based planes of the U.S. Army had become increasingly intensified. In the case of B-29s, I think we could sit still for them and feel relatively safe, except when they were flying over Hiroshima at very high altitudes with only their vapor trails visible. Then one day, a tremendous sound of explosion, "BOOM," was heard from the B-29 bombers. After a while, an endless number of small sparkling dots appeared as if the sky were strewn with stars. We just blankly stared at the scene because we had no idea what was going to happen. Then, these dots that looked like silver paper began to fall gradually to the ground, and we realized that they were U.S. propaganda leaflets. I remember that there was a great rush of soldiers to the scene to recover these leaflets quickly before we could read the message.

Sometimes, 100 to 200 carrier-based planes made their way into Hiroshima in a self-composed formation of five to six planes at such a low altitude that we could even see the faces of the enemy pilots. We saw a number of cloud clusters around the formation flight, made by bursting shells fired by the Japanese anti-aircraft gun regiment. But, these shells rarely hit enemy planes and I ground my teeth in frustration. Sometimes, it was clear that the enemy's targets were naval ports like Kure because the planes would fly over Hiroshima, and men climbed on to the roof to witness the operations with field glasses. Once, I saw with my own eyes, an enemy plane shot down with clouds of smoke rising far in the distance and a silvery parachute coming down slowly. One night, there was an enemy attack with machine gun fire from low-flying planes, and we passed the night in a damp air-raid shelter.

As I have explained, the war situation had gradually become worse. As a result, they decided to evacuate pupils above the third grade to a safe rural district away from their parents to continue studies. One day in April, my older sister left with her classmates by riding in the back of a truck. Even today, I remember my older sister sitting restlessly on a box of tangerines and turning backwards as the truck pulled away. Then, even going to elementary school had become dangerous for first and second graders. That is why terakoya (temple school) was started in the neighborhood despite it being summer vacation. Perhaps it was based on wishful thinking that the enemy would not bomb temples.

A magnificent piano with a long and distinguished history was in the drawing room at my mother's parents' house. A relative, who was a student at the Girls' School and lived in Ushita-machi, would come from time to time to receive piano lessons from my mother. On the evening before the atomic bombing, my mother played the piano during the blackout in preparation for night bombings in order to give comfort to our family suffering from gloomy feelings. The piano music my mother played that night will remain as a very sad reminder in the minds of our family members for a long, long time.