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Messages from Hiroshima

Japanese version

Hiroshi Kunimatsu (male)
'Nyushi hibaku'  / 10 years old at the time / current resident of Saitama

The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages. The unfading "Pika-Don" [Translator's note: "Pika-Don" is a colloquial term that refers to the explosion of the atomic bomb. "Pika" refers to the flash of light emitted from the atomic bomb, which was followed by "Don," which could have been either the sound of the explosion or the intense gushing of wind caused by the bomb.]
The time is August in the 20th year of Showa (1945). It is painful to recount the harrowing scene of hell that I saw with my own eyes. These are things that I do not want to recall. These are things that I do not want to put into words. However, although my heart continues to defy it, I cannot but help to talk about what had happened. I was ten years old then. My sister was seven. We lost both of our parents as well as five other close relatives by the atomic bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima. It was August 10th that we came back with our uncle, who picked us up from the student evacuation site and brought us to the site where we used to live, which used to stand in front of the grand torii gate of Gokoku Shrine in Sarugaku-cho. This was also the presumed location of ground zero. Strangely enough, the great torii gate of Gokoku Shrine remained standing alone amidst burned ruins as far as one's eyes could see. My father, who was operating a knitting wholesale store, was lying down skeletonized in between his study and the bomb shelter. The water storage tank, which was reserved for fire protection, was the only thing that remained unbroken. Our three-storied house was wiped out without any trace except for a mountain of rubble. When I tried to pick up my father's bones with pieces of wood, they quickly crumbled; I couldn't grab them. The skeleton had kept its structure, but the bones had all turned into ashes. The head was still intact, so I scooped up the bone-shaped ashes into a pot that survived the fire. The rice bowls that were probably used at breakfast were in this pot, and my father's bowl was broken while my mother's was not, which was an eerie coincidence that alluded to their life and death. When I looked around, the only things that could be seen were scattered burned corpses. These looked more like smoldering pieces of wood than burned corpses.

I found the remains of my birthplace with nothing in sight except for what was left of the industrial promotion building and the grand torii, so although I now recall the unbearable stench of foul odor, I was so engulfed with emotion that I could not think about whether I was scared or creeped-out. I vaguely remember hearing the sounds of groaning, near and far, but four days had already passed since the atomic bombing so it may have simply been my imagination. There were some words scribbled by cinder on theconcrete water storage tank: "the kids are safe" but I still don't know to this day who wrote the message. ―After 40 years had passed, this would remain an eternal mystery. I didn't know the whereabouts of my mother who went to Hiroshima from the evacuation site at Yoshidaguchi instead of my father the day before the bomb. We heard that she was near Hijiyama, so I decided to walk towards the Hijiyama bridge with my uncle. We eventually arrived at Hijiyama, but we still had no idea where my mother was. We were told that the people from the Western division of Sarugaku-cho must have gone to Ujina so we started walking towards the sea knowing that there was only a small chance, but grasping on the little hope that was left. When I was still a small child, my mother would bring me to the Buddhist altar whenever I did something bad, and I had to face the drawings of the scene of hell. But what I witnessed then was ten times, no, a few hundred times worse than that drawing.

A man with his eyes nearly popping out of their sockets was walking like a zombie. Another was moaning with pain by the roadside, all bloody with pieces of cloth burned onto his skin. It wasn't just once or twice that we had to step on and walk over the black, charred corpses. There were simply too many to walk around all of them. Mountains of dead bodies were seen on both sides of Kyoubashi River, and bodies could be seen floating in the river as well. The night had arrived, with my mother nowhere to be found. I remember eating some steamed potatoes with my uncle, although I felt no hunger or thirst. We slept outside. I saw dim blue flames sporadically burning in the complete darkness several times throughout the night. Although I was exhausted, I couldn't fall asleep. The sunlight shined on Hiroshima Harbor and dawn broke. It was sunny and the sky was blue as always. By late morning, we had finally found my mother at Nisseki Hospital in Ujina. Of course, it was only a hospital by name; there were burnt and injured people simply lying down without any adequate treatments. I could only say, "Mother, mother." My uncle shouted, "Is Kunimatsu Hisako here? Do you know Mrs. Kunimatsu?" Then, a hand rose among the people who were lying down. My uncle went to her and asked, "Is this Kunimatsu Hisako? Are you Hisako?" She nodded weakly.

To me, she didn't look at all like my mother. There was no hair on her head, her face had swollen up to the size of a volleyball, and her eyes were open but they were like marbles, they didn't move. Only one of her breasts that I sucked on as a baby was left. About two-thirds of her body was inflamed like a split-open pomegranate. I asked fearfully, "Mom, it's me, Hiro." She only gave me a very slight response by moving her hand. There were no doctors. I remember vividly asking a nurse who had passed by how my mother was, and she answered off-handedly, "It's probably too late." My uncle said "Hiro, let's get your mom back to Yoshida-guchi. Wait here." He went outside and brought a large two-wheeled cart. I remember loading my mother up and taking her to Hiroshima Station, but I cannot remember how we took her to Yoshida-guchi where my grandparents lived.

The emotional shock was too strong for a ten-year old boy. I can't recall what happened. I was later told that we were able to get her on the Geibi Line train by saying that my mother was seriously ill. I do remember my mother lying down covered in a new futon, usually reserved for visitors at our grandparent's house. They didn't have any medicine, so my grandmother took clothes to exchange them for rice and persimmons, which was supposedly good for the injury, and watched her rub them in my mother's burnt skin. She seemed to understand that I was there, but she was worried about my sister. My grandmother called to my sister, "Tomiko, your mother is calling you, come by her side." However, she peeked through the doors, horrified, and said, "No, that's a different person from my mom. That's not Mommy. That's a ghost." Even I -who was three years older than her- couldn't go by her side because of the creepiness, so I can understand her feelings. Yet if my mother, still young, heard and understood what my sister said, it must have felt like being in hell.