The text area starts here.

  • Before reading this site

Messages from Nagasaki

Hiroshi Nishioka (male)
'Chokubaku'  3 km from the hypocenter / 13 years old at the time / current resident of Kanagawa

Photographer: Eiichi Matsumoto.
The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages.
Something strange was happening around us when we escaped to the mountain behind the school building. Each student and each neighbor that took shelter there was telling each other, as they breathed heavily, that they thought the bomb had dropped close to them. But, as we looked around, there was no fire, not even smoke around us. Instead, we saw a huge flame, it seemed, one kilometer in diameter in the direction of Urakami. Above the flame was a plume that looked like a pitch-black cloud. We later learned that it was the mushroom cloud, but as we stood directly under it there was no way we could have known its shape.
We stayed in the bomb shelter for three hours or so. We returned to the classroom, which had lost every single glass window and then, with a rucksack and a lunchbox, several of us made our way up to the ruins of a castle (known as Shironkoshi) to see what had happened to the city center.
There was no fire around Atagocho, where my house was located. One of my friends, Kohei Watanabe, said Iwayamachi, where his home was located, appeared to be surrounded by blazing columns of fire. I told him I would go with him, and we made our way down the mountain to Shindaikumachi and Suwa Shrine and headed toward the street where streetcars would normally run. Already lines of people seeking refuge and two-wheeled carts and other carts carrying household goods and luggage were heading toward Hotarujaya, and we two were the only ones walking in the opposite direction.
What left a particular impression on me were people walking with their peeled body skins hanging down like Japanese bathrobes, blood-covered people who seemed to have lost half of their faces, and women walking in a daze as they held their babies with bleeding faces.
We couldn't go on toward the area facing the train station because it was engulfed in fire due to a power outage in Kogawamachi. We took a detour but found it impossible to move in this direction also as the prefectural government building was burning. We couldn't go toward the station, let alone to Iwayamachi. Fire seemed to have spread as far as Nishizaka. That meant we couldn't even go over the mountain.
Watanabe told me, "I can't go home today. I'll spend the night in the bomb shelter at the school." I had no choice but to bid him farewell and return home. (Kohei Watanabe never returned to school and we had lost contact, but eight years later we had a dramatic encounter in Okayama. I would like to write about it some other time.)
The next day I walked through scenes of calamity and conflagration to get to school. I did not go to school because I wanted to attend class or study. Then why? There was only one reason; I wanted to keep my perfect school attendance record. Back then, perfect attendance was as big an honor as graduating at the top of the class. So, students did not let a simple cold, headache, or fever keep them from school, and crawled to school if they had to. (There are young people today who refuse to go to school just because it's not fun. Those who experienced life back then could teach them a thing or two.)

At school, there were of course no classes, nor the important roll call (to my great disappointment). About twenty of us showed up at school. Assistant Principal Kanno called on me and four others and said, "A middle school in the city collapsed in this air raid, and teachers and students are reported to have been crushed under the school building. We are going to rescue them," as he handed each of us a shovel.
I realized later that without accurate information humans behaved in very absurd ways. Assistant Principal Kanno and the five boys aged thirteen and fourteen years old, leaving Narutaki School thought they could help with one shovel each in the great calamity that caused the deaths of several tens of thousands of people and the destruction of an entire city. Given the tight information control in place back then, we had no idea what a horrific fate had befallen the city, including the hypocenter.

As we passed Nagasaki Station and walked through Zenzamachi and Morimachi, we began to realize something beyond our imagination had happened. Building after building had been destroyed and burnt down, and what remained of the buildings had been blown away by the bomb blast and covered the street, making it difficult to decide which way to walk. Around the area were several hundred people, half-clothed or in a piece of underwear, making it difficult to tell whether they were just injured or dead. Some lay on their side, some lay face down, and others were scorched. I remember that somehow I did not look away or feel any human emotion like pity or horror; I just kept walking.

As we approached Murakami Station, the condition became even worse. When I saw that the steel backstop at the Mitsubishi Baseball Field (or was it the City Baseball Field?) had been twisted and mangled like tissue paper, the question crossed my mind for the first time. Can Japan win the war? Even now it is strange that I should be seized by such a thought at the sight of the fallen backstop even though I had felt no emotion when I saw several thousand deaths and completely obliterated buildings.