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Messages from Nagasaki

Hiroo Kawakami (male)
'Chokubaku'  3.7 km from the hypocenter / 12 years old at the time / current resident of Hyogo

Photographer: Eiichi Matsumoto.
The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages.
That Fateful Day: August 9

It was a hot day. The air raid warning that had been in effect since 7 a.m. was lifted by 9 o'clock. My classmate Maruta lived in the neighborhood and came to pick me up to go to school after 9 a.m. We had an English exam that day, and didn't intend to stay home. However, my mother insisted that Maruta and I not go to school that day. At first, he didn't like the idea of missing the exam, but after talking to my mother, he agreed to go home. During the conversation, he told us about a rumor he had recently heard. He said, "They've built Japanese aircraft that are equipped with six engines. We're currently attacking the U.S. with those aircraft and they should soon surrender. Our victory is more certain than ever." He then went home, having decided not to go to school. It was shortly before noon with no air raid warning in effect, and just when everyone was starting to feel relieved, a blue flash of light like burning magnesium covered the whole sky.

From what I remember, it seemed to last for more than ten seconds. A "powerful irradiation from the universe" may be more appropriate to describe its brightness, rather than just a "flash." I was looking at the sky and wondering what it was when I heard my mother calling from the kitchen, "Run to the shelter! It might be the bomb!" Our air raid shelter was like a little cave, dug sideways into the hillside in our neighbor Mr. Isshiki's yard. There was a fence between our houses, but the door on the ocean side was kept open for us to go back and forth whenever necessary. The shelter was large enough for the two families to stay. There were rooms with wooden floors on each side of the aisle, and it was big enough for at least ten people to lie down. There were two entrances to the shelter, but they both led to the big space in the middle. We were running through the yard toward the shelter when the bomb blast hit us, along with the roaring sound. With the strong air pressure from the blast, we couldn't stay standing. We fell to the ground while covering our eyes and ears, which we had been taught to do when hit by the bomb. In a short while, we heard what sounded like the explosion of a B-29 bombing.

When the roar ceased and silence fell, we stood up and walked through the cloud of dust to our shelter. Inside, I found my mother, older sister, younger sister, and brother already evacuated. We all checked with each other to make sure that we were all right.
But what in the world had happened...? We decided to stay inside for a while, fearing that there might be another attack. We all knew this was something that we had never experienced before. Maybe it was some kind of special bomb. About half an hour later, it was still quiet, so we stepped outside fearfully. My older sister and younger brother complained of a pain in their eyes, and they washed their eyes with the well water. At that time, we thought it was simply because of the dust from the bomb blast, only to find out later that it was much more serious than that.

We lived in a company house provided by Mitsubishi Shipyard, where my father worked. Our yard was situated on a cliff. Ten meters [about 33 feet] below the cliff was the No. 2 Dock and the dock house to its immediate right. Beyond the dock, we had a nice view of the town on the other side of Nagasaki Bay. From Nagasaki Station on the left to the Glover House and the buildings of Kwassui Girls' School on the right, a huge panoramic view spread in front of us, day and night.
We couldn't see the hypocenter in the north because of the woods on the hill and the tall brick wall in front of them. However, we did see gray smoke rising high in the sky above it like a thundercloud. The roof tiles of our house had been blown away, and we could see the sky from the rooms inside. The windows had been shattered, too. Although there was much damage all around the house, the main structure and the frames of the house remained surprisingly strong.

In front of our house, the half of the dock house's roof that had been facing our house had been blown away. I wondered if the bomb had burst in the air above, right between the factories and my house. I remembered the newspaper article about the Hiroshima bomb that said a parachute bomb had been dropped there. For a moment, I thought this had been the same thing, but then I realized that the explosive power of a parachute bomb couldn't be strong enough to blow away half the roof of the dock house. I recently analyzed this phenomenon from my professional standpoint as a specialist in the aerodynamic stability of suspension bridges. What happened, I suspect, was that the shock wave containing radioactive materials was in the air flow, drifting through the west valley, picking up dust and amplifying into turbulence. Now the turbulence grew bigger as it moved deeper into the valley, eventually destroying the northwest side of the dock house. In a few minutes, I could see the flames rising up from Nagasaki Station and its surrounding properties, on the other side of Nagasaki Bay. Just when I began to realizing this was something very serious, the fire started to catch the warehouses around Ohato and the Nagasaki Prefectural Government Office. The fire to the north of Nagasaki Station was especially fierce. Out on the ocean, little boats were drifting south, all ablaze.

What had just happened? The smoke over the north hill didn't seem to cease at all. We were worried about my father, who had been at work when all this happened. In a while, thought, we saw him coming back from the direction of the dock, climbing up the stairs that were as steep as a ladder. The blood stain on his shirt alarmed us for a moment, but we soon found that it was from his co-worker who had been injured by fragments of broken glass. We were all relieved to know that my father was unhurt. When the bomb hit, he had been inside the Mitsubishi Shipyard headquarters, which was built of reinforced concrete. According to my father, the building itself was all right but pieces of broken glass had blown in with the blast, killing some people near the window.

"Mt. Inasa and the Urakami district are completely destroyed! Many injured people are coming this way. Keiho Middle School must be a disaster, too. I was worried about you, Hiroo. I'm so glad you're all right!" said my father.
My father had been on night duty that evening and had not been home when my mother decided to keep me home that day. So, he didn't know that I had not been at school when all this happened. My father was a very strict, typical "Satsuma boy," a man with strict discipline and morality, and would not have allowed me to miss classes if he had been home that morning. Knowing this, my mother was very proud of her decision.
In those days, an air raid warning was issued every morning. It was a daily occurrence that one or two B-29s would fly over the Kitakyushu region at high altitude and leave without doing anything. As soon as the B-29s left, the warning was cleared and we would go on with our daily work. It became a daily pattern and we were all getting used to it.

We found out later from the U.S. Army that the daily flights had been a well-planned military strategy to throw us completely off-guard by making us believe that the bomber was another reconnaissance plane. How could we possibly have guessed that it was carrying the A-bomb?
At night, the fire on the opposite shore was burning fiercely and had spread even more. My father, Mr. Mikuriya, whose family had been killed by the bombing a few days earlier, and our next-door neighbor, Mr. Isshiki, whose family had been evacuated, were discussing the development of the war situation. They had some information about what had happened in Hiroshima a few days earlier and thought today's attack was "some kind of a special bomb." They suspected that the war situation might not be favorable for us.
That night, eight of us (my family, Mr. Mikuriya, and Mr. Isshiki) slept together in our shelter. I woke up many times during the night. Each time I woke up, I went outside and watched the burning city in the distance.
There was no sign of the fires settling down throught the night. The next day, too, the fires kept going. I feared that the fires would spread ever farther and burn down the whole city of Nagasaki.