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Messages from Hiroshima

Japanese version

Minoru Okada (male)
'Chokubaku'  4.1 km from the hypocenter / 20 years old at the time / current resident of Oita

The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages. Surviving from under the Mushroom Cloud


Born in 1925 (14th year of the Taisho period), my entire school days were spent under wartime conditions. The Manchurian Incident in 1931 (6th year of the Showa period) and the Shanghai Incident in 1932 developed into the China Incident in 1937. By that time, Japan was fighting an all-out war against China. I was in the first year of middle school at that time. In December 1941, when I was in the fourth year of middle school, the Pacific War started. The three countries of Japan, Germany, and Italy fought against the U.S., UK, France, the Netherlands, USSR and China in what was to become known as World War II.

In 1938, the Ministry of Education edited and published "Cardinal Principles of the National Essence of Japan" to show the entire nation what they maintained was the truth about Japan and what was expected of its people. It stated, "Loyalty means placing the Emperor above all and following the Emperor in everything absolutely and unconditionally. Following absolutely and unconditionally means a complete and selfless devotion to the Emperor. To be on this path of loyalty is the only way for every Japanese citizen to live and is the source of all strengths for them. Therefore, to give up one's life for the Emperor is not a so-called sacrifice, but is a way to truly live in great glory as citizens of Japan." Thus, they began forcing upon us the spirit of selfless devotion.

The principal or vice-principal of middle school spent an hour a week pumping "The Basic Principles of the Country" into us. Anything that was independent or critical of this was regarded as dissident by the state power, as we walked on a straight path to war. Under this increasingly militarist system of education, the middle school uniform changed its color to khaki, and students now used rucksacks instead of satchels. Military officials assigned to each school were given more power than principals, and it was even rumored that, if their evaluation was not in your favor, you would have a hard time passing the exam for military cadets.

As the war raged on, both the government and mass media endorsed it as a sacred war to "punish the evil China," and various measures were employed to fuel people's enthusiasm and support for the war. However, they failed to evoke patriotism or a sense of critical danger among the people, and, though the press repeatedly reported moving episodes on the home front, the war cast a shadow on people's lives as the number of casualties increased, and people were not as passionately supportive of the war as was hoped.

It was in this gloomy atmosphere that the government proposed a national spiritual mobilization and tried to force the entire nation of people to embrace the war with passion. The government implemented the spiritual mobilization policy to nurture the spirit of absolute and totalitarian loyalty to the nation and to unite the people in enthusiastic support of the war so they would be determined to fight it through until the objectives were achieved.

As the tide of war turned against Japan, with the exception of students of science and technology, students of law and liberal arts at higher schools, colleges, and universities were no longer exempt from conscription, and a send-off party in their honor was held at the Outer Garden of the Meiji Shrine. Newspapers featured photos of students parading in lines in the pouring rain, each led by their respective school flag, and radio programs reported about them in excited militarist tones. I couldn't bear to imagine how hard it must have been for them to leave school with their studies incomplete.

In August this year, TV programs commemorating the anniversary of the end of World War II repeatedly showed archival footage from these send-off parties for students. Those who actually took part in the parade as students were recalling how they had been touched by the enthusiasm of female students seeing them off at the stands. They said that the wish to protect their families and those girls had strengthened their determination to go to the front, trusting those who would follow them.

I was in the higher school at that time and felt it was a real emergency. Indeed, soon the age limit was lowered and I applied for the position of special class-A cadreman. It was a new position that had just been established. In January 1945, I entered the Imperial Army Cavalry Service School in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, and started learning ship maintenance techniques. A ship maintenance engineer seemed to have little to do with suicide attacks, but with the changing aspects of the war, I was prepared for the worst. However, the war ended in August, and my life took an unexpected turn.

I may have dwelled too long on circumstantial information, but I wanted to give the readers some idea about the historical background of my childhood and student days, which were entirely militarist. In those days, we had no choice but to be part of the wartime system, and many older friends and peers who could have had such a beautiful future ahead of them were killed in action. We weren't sent abroad to fight, but were exposed to the world's first atomic bomb in Hiroshima, where many civilians lost their lives, including women, children and the elderly. We experienced the cruelty of nuclear arms and the misery of the war. Many of the victims are now coming to the end of their lives, but they are still suffering from the pain, both physical and emotional. The war is over, but the damages caused by the atomic bombing still remain. No one should suffer this same pain that we have been suffering. That is the wish common to all atomic bomb victims. We must speak the truth about our experiences with the atomic bombing to the generations after us and keep the memory alive. We must let the whole world stay aware that humans have no future as long as there are nuclear arms, and that we must abolish them totally.

This project to publish a collection of stories by those exposed to the atomic bombing is indeed timely. I for one have decided to submit my story as one of the survivors. However, it happened 55 long years ago, and I may be confused about some of the facts, but knowing that so many people had to die sadly without telling their stories, I believe it is my duty as one who has survived this long to speak and keep the memory alive.