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Messages from Hiroshima

Katsuko Kuwamoto (female)
'Chokubaku'  3.5 km from the hypocenter / 6 years old at the time / current resident of Hiroshima

The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages. Then we tried to contact our mother in Hiroshima, but we couldn't. Our cousin, around twenty-five then, impatiently said, "I can't sit and wait here anymore. I will go and find her." He set out with a backpack, but came back soon, saying, "I was not able to go any farther than Misasa because of the raging fire." My mother didn't show up the next day or the next. Then our aunt said, "We will go and find your mother together now." Our aunt, my sister and I set out and reached Misasa. On the riverbanks there were innumerable bodies. People had run for their lives from the city and died there. They were all kindly covered with straw mats by the people there. We lifted every mat to find our mother, but every victim was too mercilessly damaged to be recognized. Moreover, because of the nauseating smell under the scorching sun, we couldn't stay long. Most of the victims were badly swollen and browned with heat-ray burns over most of their bodies, so we couldn't tell who was who. (Later I drew this scene and sent it to NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation, which was collecting drawings of the A-bombing.)

My mother turned up on the fourth day after the A-bombing, although it seemed much longer to me. She wore nothing but a bloodstained yukata, a Japanese summer garment. My mother told us her story. In those days, people prepared backpacks containing their valuables and kept them within reach in case they had to run for their lives. My mother was trapped under our toppled house, and had no time to get her backpack. Fortunately, her next-door neighbor found her and called out loudly to a passerby. The two successfully removed the big columns penning her, and saved her. When the neighbor and my mother were about to flee, a person, covered with blood and standing nearby,said to them, "Take me with you, please." My mother and the next-door neighbor asked her name because she looked totally different and beyond recognition. She answered that she was Ms. Fujii, the neighbor three doors down from our house. Then the three of them fled together.

Raging fires in the city center prevented them from taking the direct way to Gion, so they fled, climbing over Hijiyama Hill and reached the rice paddy area where the present Hiroshima University Hospital stands. They spent three days there. They received disaster certificates at the foot of Tsurumi Bridge on their way. (I have donated my mother's certificate to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. When my mother gave it to me, it was cloudy with spots of sweat or something.)

In the meantime, we heard people around us talking; "Two of my mobilized cousins haven't come back yet," "My uncle is missing. He was on his way to work."
After my sister and I reunited with our mother, the three of us moved to my father's parents' house. The rationing of rice had started, though I don't exactly remember when it started. My mother had to walk more than 4 km early in the morning every three days to get the ration for us. We should have known that it was too much of a burden for a woman who had narrowly survived the A-bombing. One rainy day, she collapsed while waiting in a queue for the ration.

Some people there carried her to a relative's house nearby where she couldn't rise from bed anymore.
She kept vomiting large amounts of blood every day and got weaker and weaker. Believing that she had tuberculosis, she wouldn't let my sister and me see her. One cold rainy day in the autumn, my sister and I were allowed to see my mother for the last time because my mother seemed to be dying. She was lying with an umbrella over her face when we entered the room in our relative's house where the roofs had been damaged by the bombing. At night, the stars could be seen through the holes in the ceiling. She said in a gasping voice, "After I die, I will become a star in the sky and watch over you two from there." We said a tearful farewell to our mother and left soon for our grandparents' house.

Days later my father, discharged from the army, came back to Hiroshima. He walked around the burned ruins, searching for us. Finally, he managed to arrive at the relative's house where my mother was. He had heard that blood transfusions were the most effective way to save those who had survived the A-bombing. Fortunately, his blood type was the same as my mother's. He gave his blood to my mother every day.

One chilly evening in late autumn, my sister and I saw the dim shape of two people riding double on a bicycle, coming toward us from the lower part of the river. Watching them carefully, we noticed that the person riding in the back was waving and calling our names. It was our mother! She had regained her health to some degree. The person who was pedaling was our father, of course. How delighted my sister and I were to have them together, to have the family members who had been long separated reunited at last! After our family reunion, our father went around by bicycle every day to get food for us. Thanks to his efforts, our mother gradually recovered.
If fate had not been so kind to us, my sister and I might have been orphans.

Even after our mother regained her health, whenever she overworked, she had bleeding from the capillaries under the skin, so she always had many bruise marks on her body. In her early fifties, she developed multiple cancers - breast cancer, lung cancer and brain cancer - one after another. She ended her hard life at the age of sixty-one.
(Previously published text received 2010)

The Place of Exposure: Hiroshima.
I was inside the school building of Nagatsuka National Elementary School in Nagatsuka, Gion, Asaminami-ku, Hiroshima, 3.5 km from the hypocenter.
After the A-bombing, I entered the city and searched for my mother. My mother was 32 then, was A-bombed 1.2 km from the hypocenter, and fled the raging fires to the southern part of Hiroshima.