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Messages from Nagasaki

Japanese version

Jo (male)
'Nyushi hibaku'  / 15 years old at the time / current resident of Kumamoto

Photographer: Eiichi Matsumoto.
The scenes of the A-bombed city are introduced here. The photographs are not directly connected with the messages.
I would like to attach a record of my personal experience of the A-bomb, "A Record of Kumamoto Commercial School Mobilization to Nagasaki." I have not yet shown this memoir either to my forty-eight year old son or my twenty-one year old grandson. As for my grandson, he does not even know that I was exposed to radiation in Nagasaki. Hoping that they will read this essay one day, I have simply kept it on a bookshelf. However, your call for responses to the "Questionnaire: 60 Years Since the A-Bomb" provides a good opportunity for me to send a copy for possible reference.

"Oh, My Youthful Blood Is Astir": A Record of Student Mobilization from Kumamoto Commercial School to Nagasaki
[The quotation is a refrain from a student mobilization song, lyric by Toshio Nomura and music by Kyosei Aikimoto.]

Horror of the Atomic Bomb
Leaving behind abominable memories, the train left Nagasaki, which with a blink of an eye had turned into ruins. We just sat on the train with expressionless faces. I have no recollection of whether we ate anything or drank water on the way back to our hometown, Kumamoto. Considering the food situation of that time, we probably neither ate nor drank at all during the train ride.

On the way home, the train slowed down near Omura gulf (where the Omura air base was located at the time) due to a B-29 air raid. As I looked up at the sky above, I could see a single plane shimmering in the distance. At the time, almost all major cities in Japan had already been burned to ashes, so it must have been an American reconnaissance plane on its scheduled flight.

We were so glad to have safely returned to our dear home town. It was a feeling only experienced by those who survived till the end of the student mobilization to Nagasaki. The war ended the following day.

1. Deprivation of Youth
I have been to Nagasaki to sightsee. There stood a large peace statue. In the spacious peace park, sightseeing buses were parked, neatly lined up, in bright sunlight.

Students on their school excursion trips, who seemed to be having a great time, suggested nothing but peace itself. A bus guide was explaining something with her classy gestures.

"It was August 9 when the A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. In a split second, seventy-three thousand precious lives were sacrificed. That, over there, is the hypocenter, and the bells of the Urakami Catholic Church. . . ." She must have been explaining tragic scenes from that day, but did young people without wartime experiences in fact understand what it was like? We, however, witnessed the tragic situation, and rushed to assist burned people placed in what looked like a picture of hell.

At the time, we were at an aircraft production factory in Zassho-no-kuma (near today's Minami Fukuoka station). Mitsubishi's Nagasaki Shipyard, where we were stationed, had lost its function as a shipyard due to exhaustive B-29 air raids, and had become silenced into an eerie mass of iron.

At the order of the factory, five of us, chosen from among well-built youth of our class, were sent to the Zassho-no-kuma factory to fetch parts of spare aircraft fuel tanks. (Even after the shipyard was bombed and no longer able to construct ships, we worked for our country by assembling parts of planes.)

As substitutes for backpacks, we used big wooden crates, each attached to a back strap. With this big box resting on our emaciated bodies, we were to carry items from Zassho-no-kuma, Fukuoka, to our Nagasaki shipyard. I don't know of any other groups that had done the same. We were probably the first and the last student group to do so. Suppose one wave of reinforcements after another had been poured in. On looking back, it leaves one to wonder whether such a tactic was effective in any way. But of course we didn't dare have such doubts back then.

We had no leisure to criticize the war, much less think about the circumstances we were in. This, I think, was a natural mindset for fifteen-year-old boys at that time.

2. A-bomb Paramedic Train
The day after we arrived at Zassho-no-kuma, someone told us that a high-performance tracer shell had been dropped on Nagasaki, and that it was a super big one, causing a considerable number of casualties.

The factory was located in the middle of a field. It was pitch-dark that night, grass was growing as tall as our height, and we were surrounded by cries of frogs. The following morning, we were to promptly head back to Nagasaki. Our specially made wooden backpacks were packed full with duralumin parts.

Our train was composed of numerous cars. I had never seen such a long train before. When the train made a curve, making its entire length visible, I was surprised afresh by how long it was. It was a relief train with a mission to pick up A-bomb victims and wounded survivors, and we had been ordered to ride with them. Most passengers were soldiers. Medicine boxes were stacked up in the aisle. Also, everyone had a medicine box attached to a shoulder strap. While there were a few female nurses, most on board were male soldiers. The train stopped. I don't remember which station it was, but it was probably Isahaya station. Many people had gathered on the platform. There was an odd atmosphere. I could sense it with my eyes first. Those human beings all looked blackish. Taking a good look, I realized that everyone had terrible burns. Pants had burned, exposing knees that had turned red. People with red arms or red faces, bare-footed people, and people with clothes burned to tatters -- they all silently sat or lay. The place was quiet. Most people who lay there looked black, with reddened skin. They were blankly staring at the train. Everyone had burns. What I saw was a mass of humans with clothes burned black and bodies burned red.

As the train approached Nagasaki, we saw telegraph poles, equally fallen in the same direction. Frightened by these peculiar sights, the five of us received shock after shock. The train only went as far as Michi-no-o. Even the railroad ties had caught fire. As I looked up, as far as the eye could reach, the city of Nagasaki had disappeared as if it had been blown out. No trace of fires remained. There were no rubble or debris that would have been left after bombardment. The city had vanished as if it had been blown out.