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For Those Who Pray for Peace
Listening to the Voice of My Remorseful Heart
- Reiko Kajitani
50th Class of Hiroshima Jogakuin High School before the war,
24th Class of College of Manners, 25th Class of College of English
Residing in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi prefecture
On Monday, August 6, 1945, I was in the 9th year of the Home Economics Division of Hiroshima Jogakuin College. I was working at the Toyo Kogyo (currently, Mazda) in Mukainada as a member of the Wartime Student Mobilization Workforce.
On Sunday, I had just had a lovely time with my sister and her friend, who had invited a couple of Thailand exchange students to have tea and play music. Back then it was impolite to play the piano at home, but we felt that we could bend the rules on weekends. So we played Japanese songs on the piano, and the exchange students played the violin. This was a special occasion, and I couldn't wait to tell my friends at the factory about the fun I had on my day off. I left early the following morning, and arrived at Itsukaichi Station. A lazy person,I ordinarily took a later train, but I was so excited I'd arrived earlier than usual. Off to the factory I went.
In Mukainada, the students would line up in two rows and march to the cadence of "Head right!" and pass through the front gate. Our work clothes were grubby from the oil stains but we didn't mind. We had gotten used to it. We started the day in the student waiting room. There were some humble, long wooden tables with benches in the large waiting room of the sheds, which served as a place for the students to change clothes and eat and rest.
That day, I sat down and fidgeted with excitement, wondering how to begin to tell the story of my delightful Sunday. That is when someone said, "It's a B-29," and pointed to the sky outside the window. I followed the student's outstretched finger and saw a B-29 plane drawing a beautiful bow of clouds in the clear blue sky. We watched the plane in bewilderment.
That's when something black and round was dropped from the plane. I wondered what it was. It gave off a blinding flash. Someone said it was a flare bomb. All I remember is that I was about to open my mouth to say, "There's no way it can be a flare bomb, it's so bright!"
I felt like I was floating in space, as if I were swimming, headed somewhere. I was alone. There was nobody in sight. I wondered what had happened. I wondered where I was as I floated along. Then I heard some noise in the distance. It was approaching and getting louder. I realized it was a human voice calling. This was when I came to. I had lost consciousness. was surrounded in darkness and couldn't see anything. It took me some time to comprehend what had happened but gradually I started to make out my surroundings and found myself lying on the floor.
The waiting room was covered with broken window glass, desks, and chairs. I realized that I had been blown quite a way from where I had been sitting. We all called out for our friends and started to gather outside. By the time I got outside, most of the students were in the yard. There were some who had cuts on their faces from the broken glass, and we checked each other for injuries. There was a somber mood that hung in the air.
The teacher told us that Hiroshima was under attack and we should go into town to rescue people, but soon news came that the disaster was beyond the students' capacity to help, and so we were ordered us to go home. Since all of the public transportation systems were down, officials grouped the students by neighborhood so that we could walk home together.
I wondered what had happened. I looked towards the city of Hiroshima, and saw a large white mushroom cloud rising higher and higher, getting bigger and bigger. I questioned what could have caused such a cloud. I speculated that perhaps a bomb was dropped into an armory, which caused a huge explosion. I think there were about 25 of us who were returning to the Koi area. Our teacher, Ms. Nobue Kanzaki, was leading our group. Our first plan was to head to Hiroshima Station.
As we left the factory we saw people coming from Hiroshima evacuating towards Kure. The horror of this sight stopped me in my tracks. There was a line of people dragging their charred bodies, who had been burned head to toe. Their skin hung down like tattered cloth and swayed as they staggered step by step. I had never seen such a sight and my legs trembled. Someone said, "Let's get it together, we've got to make it home," and from that time on, I joined the queue and tried to encourage other students. I had to be strong, I was going home. From the factory to Hiroshima Station, we walked against the flow of people, who were escaping towards Kure. As we passed by Hiroshima Station, we joined in with a wave of refugees going towards Mt.Ushita. We passed by people who lay by the river, moaning and groaning for water, but we couldn't help them. We walked by in silence, and I apologized to them in my mind. I kept walking as I listened to the voice of my remorseful heart. It was a quiet march through hell. Occasionally a student would stray from the group, as he and she collapsed. I lost all ability to think or feel and became like an object that had no purpose but to keep walking.
Near Hiroshima Station, I saw a truck parked with many injured people on it. People stood on the bed of the truck with their lifeless eyes gazing into the distance. Their faces were black and blue and, shockingly, their hair stood straight out. I realized that when humans face such a dreadful fright their hair stands up that way. I shuddered at the sight of these burned people who had no choice but to go with the flow of others. War is such a cruel and brutal thing. I wondered what would happen to us. But first I must just get home. All I could do was to keep walking.
We took a break by the river in Ushita. Ms. Nobue Kanzaki took out a large tomato from her backpack. Over the weekend, Ms. Kanzaki had gone to her friend's place in the countryside to buy some food. "I have some tomatoes and potatoes, but we can't eat the potatoes raw," she said. "I only have two tomatoes but they're big enough to share." I think we shared one tomato among 12 or 13 people. It was the most delicious small slice of tomato that I ever had.
We stopped by one of the students' homes near Yokogawa. The house was partially collapsed, and the family had left a note written with charcoal on the tin sheet in front of the house. The letter said that her family was safe and that she should come and meet them at a certain evacuation site. Ms. Kanzaki encouraged the student to find her family by following the train tracks.
At Koi Station the Neighborhood Ladies Club gave us tea and dry bread. They greeted us kindly, welcoming us home, soothing our pains. I breathed a sigh of relief for finally finding a safe little harbor. There were some homes that were destroyed in Koi, but thankfully this area didn't catch on fire. It was dark by the time we arrived, and I felt it would be impossible to carry on to Itsukaichi that day, so I stayed over at a friend's place. Although my friend's house was still standing, the glass was broken and scattered everywhere, the shelves were overturned, and the rooms were covered in debris. My friend's mother was waiting up for her daughter's return. When she saw us, she cleared out a space for us to sleep and insisted we stay overnight, since it would be impossible to walk to Itsukaichi. I don't remember clearly but I think there were 4 or 5 of us.
Since all the doors and windows were broken we cleaned up the broken glass and hung a mosquito net. We sat in our little mosquito-net tent and ate some dry bread. The electricity was out, and I laid down in the darkness. I watched the fire burning far in the distance: a red glow in the deep, vast darkness. The city of Hiroshima was burned to the ground.
"That's the Hijiyama area, isn't it?" said one of my friends. "I can't believe we can see all the way to Mt. Hijiyama from here," said another. Everything was destroyed and burned down, except for a few black metal beams of larger structures sticking out of the rubble. I just wanted to get home. I wondered what had become of my family in Itsukaichi. I wondered if my father, who worked in Hiroshima, was safe. I wondered if my brother, who was also part of the student mobilization workforce, was alive. It was a sleepless night, as I thought of various fearful things..
I awoke around 5 a.m. the next morning and headed for Itsukaichi. I left with two others, without changing any clothes, with our faces unwashed. As we walked, we nibbled on the dried bread that was given to us. I don't even remember what I wore on my feet. It was summer time, and back then all we wore in the summer were the rationed flip-flops, but I have no recollection of whether I was wearing them or not. I imagine it would have been quite hot, being that it was in the middle of summer, but I don't even remember the heat. All I wanted was to get home and see my family.
I believe I arrived at Itsukaichi around 9 o'clock. The whole town was waiting for their family members to return from Hiroshima. When I approached my immediate neighborhood, someone recognized me and called out, "It's Reiko from the Kajitani family." They ran to my house with the news that I was back. All of a sudden tears gushed to my eyes and I followed my neighbor. All the sorrow and tears that I had pushed aside hit me like a wave that I did not know how to stop. The people in my neighborhood greeted me with joy, as I wailed and ran through the street. My father, who had heard the news, was waiting for me at the front door and caught me in his arms. And then my mother came over. The three of us hugged and cried. My mother made me a hot bath and I cleaned my body, which was covered in black soot. Then the relief I felt pulled me into a deep sleep.
I awoke after a couple of hours and went to help at a nearby temple, where they were arranging a cookout for the refugees from Hiroshima. We cooked rice in a huge pot and made rice balls. Then we took the rice balls on a bicycle cart to take them to the town hall, where the refugees were waiting to be assigned some resting space. There were many burn victims leaning against the wall and lying about in the front rooms of the town hall. Flies buzzed around people's open wounds, laying maggots in them. The burn victims were so lifeless that they didn't even shoo the flies away. When I tried to pick the maggots out in their wounds, they must have felt the pain, because their faces would twitch, and they closed their eyes tight and braced their body. They simply looked at the rice balls that we brought, not having enough energy to eat. These people were rotting away. Their bodies were being eaten alive by the maggots. There was nothing I could do to help them. I felt like I was crawling around in hell.
Once I got home there were some refugees in my home. It was a scene I'll never forget. Our small house was crowded with three people in the entry hall, and two in the family room. The three people who lived in our entry hall were a shoemaker, his wife, and their young daughter of about 4 or 5. Her body was covered in burns. I don't remember her real name, so I'll call her Michiko.
When her father carried her in on his back Michiko cried, "It hurts, it hurts". My mother brought out a blanket so that she could lie down. Even after lying down, Michiko kept crying with a weak voice and protesting about her pain. My mother found an old summer kimono and boiled it to sterilize it and then tore it into strips to make bandages. We only had one small tincture of medicine for burns, and it was not enough to properly cover her burns. We gently wrapped Michiko in the bandages, but since she had burned her face as well she just looked like a bundle of bandage when we were finished. Every day Michiko cried in pain until she exhausted herself and fell asleep. We couldn't find a doctor or medicine and all we could do was to take a fan and make a cooling breeze.
One day something happened that is etched into my memory even to this day. Michiko's voice was gradually losing its power. My parents were away, and I was reading a book by her side, when suddenly she started speaking in her sleep. Her voice was clear and powerful. "Mommy, the flowers are so beautiful. There are butterflies, too. See, over there! Can you catch one for me? Oh, there's another one… hurry, hurry, over here!"
Startled, I put the book down and looked at Michiko's face. She was sleeping peacefully and dreaming of a beautiful field full of flowers. She dwelled in this dreamful state for a while, until her voice trailed off. I felt a sense of urgency and called for help, but it was too late. Michiko had passed away peacefully. Finally, she had been freed of the pain and suffering.
And then there was the time, during their evacuation, that the shoemaker's family found a broken cart that had carried Michiko and three cans of food. They picked up the cans as they passed by the food factory. These were large cans, about 20 centimeters in diameter, designed to feed the army. When they arrived at our home they offered us two of these cans for our family to eat. My mother protested, saying that it was too precious a gift, and surely the shoemaker's family would need all three cans in the long run. The cans were brand new. The shoemaker insisted over and over that we should accept the gift as a token of appreciation for taking care of them. Finally my family gave in and decided we would all share the canned food.
We were quite excited to have food from a can since we were very hungry and tired of meal replacement foods. What a treat! My brother found an old can opener, and we anxiously waited to see the meal inside as he opened the lid. We were shocked to find that the contents, which should have been cooked burdock root, was burned completely into black soot. All three cans, with their shiny perfect exterior, contained only charred black burdock root. For a while everyone fell into such a pit of disappointment. That no one could utter a word. But then laughter pierced the silence and we all laughed until our eyes watered. We imagined the effort it took to carry three large cans along with an injured girl in a bicycle cart, all the way from Hiroshima to Itsukaichi. We didn't know what to do with the sadness we felt for the shoemaker and the humor that we found in the situation.
The shoemaker and our family cremated Michiko. After much effort my mother collected enough firewood and stacked it on a hand cart. We laid Michiko's body, which was wrapped in cotton, over the firewood and decorated it with some wild flowers and walked in a funeral line. After the cremation, the shoemaker's family gathered Michiko's bones and left to stay with their relatives.
One of the refugees, who was staying in our family room, developed a high fever and became bedridden. There were spots on his skin and he vomited blood. The town doctor said, "I'm not sure what illness this is, but I believe it's contagious. The young ones are at risk, so you should keep this patient in quarantine. The grade school is being used as an isolation ward. Take him there immediately."
So my mother once again went to borrow a hand cart and put a board on top of it so that the patient could lie down as she wheeled him over to the grade school. Once the patient was taken away we sterilized the family rooms' tatami flooring by rubbing it down with cresol. We also disinfected our hands. In hindsight I realize that his illness was not some epidemic but the effect of radiation exposure. But at that time we were ignorant of the type of bomb that was dropped, and nobody had even heard of an atomic bomb or radiation.
The war ended on August 15, but the living situation was still severe. There was a serious food shortage and we usually ate steamed or grilled balls made of potato powder, and gruel of rice cooked with lots of water. My mother put on monpe pants, her large sack on her back, and traveled to the farmhouses to acquire food. One by one our valuable kimonos vanished from our closet and turned into rice and potatoes.
On September 30 we advanced one year and graduated from the school of Home Economics. We gathered at Mt.Ushita and had our graduation ceremony outdoors. If you look at my diploma, you'll see that under the writing "School of Home Economics" is a small piece of paper covering up the words "School of English." The teachers must have tried hard to put together whatever they could in order to give us a graduation ceremony. This was the first day I had gone to Hiroshima since the bomb. Although it had been over a month since the bombing, the city was still a burnt field, and I could see the steel structure of the Fukuya Department Store all the way from Koi Station. I saw people building humble huts near Hiroshima Station and doing their best to survive.
I would like to tell you a story about Ms. T, my classmate. One day I went to the grand reopening of the Fukuya Department Store. Seeing Fukuya reopened after such devastation gave me strength. I believe it was just a single-story building, but the store was filled with merchandise and people. That's where I ran into Ms. T. She had a scarf over her head and I could see the scars on her face, left by broken glass. She called my name and, at first sight, I barely recognized her. She told me of her experience on August 6.
Ms. T lived in a court-provided residence with her father, who worked in the courthouse. Her mother and sisters were evacuated in the countryside. At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, her father was standing by the front door, just about to leave for work, and she was in the family room. That was when the sudden force of an explosion knocked her unconscious and buried her under the house. When she came to, she heard her father calling her, and she tried to answer, "Father, I am here." But there was a large beam that weighed on her chest and she couldn't yell. Struggling, she freed her upper body enough to find a scrap of wood and started banging on the beam to alert her father of her location. Her father was not trapped since he had been standing at the front door. Ms. T could tell that her father was moving around the rubble and listening to her banging, but still it took him a very long time to find her.
Then she smelled smoke and realized that the house was about to catch fire. She called out, "Father, you are able to escape, so please run away. I'm fine. I'm ready to die here. Just please save yourself." Her father didn't listen to her and kept moving the rubble about and then she heard some water running. She heard her father say, "T, I'm sorry, I can't help you. Please forgive me. I'm running some precious water for you and I hope it will give you some relief." Ms. T closed her eyes and cried as she heard her father's agonizing parting words. But then she heard more noise of rubble being moved around, and somehow the beam that had pinned her down was lifted. She broke free and realized that her father, having given up and left, had had second thoughts and turned around to come and rescue her. They soaked their bodies in water and ran through the fire and escaped. Ms. T told me, "My father saved my life, and I would jump into fire for him. If it wasn't for him, I would have been burned alive. I am so grateful." I thought about all the people who were burned alive while they lay trapped under their homes.
Whenever I see the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima on TV, projected against the other clouds, I see all the people who were burned alive. The world does not need atomic bombs and nuclear weapons. The single bomb dropped by Enola Gay burned tens of thousands of people and destroyed many humans, animals, plants, and nature with its radiation. Thinking again of the people who suffer from the aftereffects of radiation and the pain that is passed down the generations strengthens my conviction that we cannot allow the use of nuclear weapons. We must abolish them from the world. If we do not, our precious earth will be polluted and destroyed by these weapons.
Ms. T and her father moved to Beppu for rest and recovery and her father soon passed away. Ms. T passed away a few years ago.
Sixty years have passed since then. In December of 1945 I had a high fever and was bedridden by an illness for which there was no diagnosis. For a period of time I felt that I couldn't stand the cruelty of war, the ugly nature of humankind, and simply wanted to quit being a human myself. But every time I thought of killing myself, I was reminded of how my parents greeted me with tears of joy that day when I returned from Hiroshima, and I found the courage to live for them.
I'm glad that I chose life. In the past 60 years I have encountered so much love and kindness. Although it was a rough ride, I have many fond memories, and I learned about the wonderful nature of life. Had I chosen death back then, I would have ended my life as a hateful, pathetic person. I believe peace will come when we all cultivate understanding and communication, people to people, nation to nation. I believe we will achieve peace when every person on earth makes the effort to abolish war.
I would like to close with some poems from my diaries.
・Mushroom Cloud (written in 1984)
As if bubbling out of the ground
The mushroom cloud grows
High, high above, larger and larger
Underneath, tens of thousands
Are stripped naked of their flesh
Burned, die screaming
Fellow humans, please do not forget.
Black rain covers half of Father's face
Remains black, in the urn
・Give me water (written in 1983)
"Water, give me water"
I walked by without giving them a hand.
I cursed my cruel heart
And followed the row of people
They extended their hands, burned black
And called for help
But I pretended not to see them
And passed by with the heart of a devil
After 36 years
I still hear them call
"Water, give me water"
(Written in 1984)
Mushroom cloud, I see hell on earth
On the anniversary of the atomic bomb
Hell burning and people crying for water
Even now, on the anniversary of the atomic bomb
I watch the peace festival on television
The voices echo "no more nukes"
On the anniversary of the atomic bomb
Chernobyl (written in 1986)
Rainy season brings back the fear of radiation
A half century passes still dragging the shadow of the bomb
Unforgivable, anniversary of the atomic bomb
(Written in 1999 to 2005)
Mushroom cloud, stealing thousands of lives
I don't even hear the name "Pika-don," anniversary of the atomic bomb
The storyteller's memory never fades, anniversary of the atomic bomb
The storyteller's Mission unaccomplished, anniversary of Hiroshima
With guilt I prepare rice, anniversary of the atomic bomb
For the longest time I was afraid that if I did not record my experiences about the atomic bombing this mistake in history might be repeated. I am grateful for the opportunity to write this memoir.
It has been 60 years and I find my memory fading. Perhaps the fading is what helped me write about my experiences calmly. In the past, when I spoke of those days, I would get choked up and could not continue. I hope you will forgive me for any inaccuracies due to the lapses I have in my memory.
… 79 years old