The text area starts here.
For Those Who Pray for Peace
Battling the Aftereffects of the Atomic Bomb
- Rikuko Sasaki (maiden name ,Ikeda)
2nd Graduating Class of Hiroshima Jogakuin Junior College
Residing in Asa-minami-ku, Hiroshima City
I was in the 1st grade at Hijiyama Middle School for Women in August of 1945. At the time we hardly studied in school and were instead cleaning up after building demolition. As the loud siren of the air raid alert sounded, we interrupted our work and gathered at school. We were taking a break in our classrooms after cleaning up. Just then, there was a strange light that lit up the whole area. The school building shook, there was a loud boom, and dust filled the classroom. When the dust settled and I looked around, I realized that I had instinctively gotten under a desk with my eyes and ears covered. I thought the school had been bombed.
Carefully I looked around, and saw that the blackboard and classroom next door were dismantled, and the roof was torn off and hanging. The windowpanes were completely blown out. Ms. Yamanaka, who was next to me, was cut by the glass shards and was bleeding from her face. I pulled out the pieces of glass, took out some medicine from the first aid kit, and treated her wounds. I walked barefoot over the classroom floor that was covered with shattered glass and jumped out of the window. We all cried as we ran out to the school yard. The school principal, Mr. Tamaso Kuninobu, who was bleeding from his hands and face, gathered us together. Everyone was barefoot so we went to the shoe racks to get some shoes. The shelves were tossed over and laying on top of each other.
Everyone got busy finding their own pair of shoes. I finally found mine and ran back out to the schoolyard. I looked around and saw that none of the houses near the school had survived the blast. All of the roofs were blown off, windows shattered, and we could see through to the inside of the houses. I saw a huge stack of billowing white smoke rising up high into the sky, from the other side of Mt. Hiji. The school decided that we should evacuate to the Mt. Niho for the time being. The teachers carried the students who were badly injured.
After a while, those living closest to the area were told to go home. I left with a group of four to five students. The area Army Ordnance Supply Depot (factory for military weapons, presently Hiroshima University Hospital) was covered with lotus fields and there was no place to hide. When we heard planes overhead, we cowered down and hoped that they would pass without shooting. I was terrified and ran home in a hurry. I prayed that my home would be undamaged. I arrived and saw that my home was no exception to the others. All the windows were blown out, and the first thing I noticed was the three-shelf armoire that was thrown over on the floor. Our ceiling was now the blue sky. The back panel of our grandfather clock was floating in the bathtub filled with shattered glass. A single chopstick, which used to be in the chopstick holder on the dining table, was now sticking straight out of the back of the grandfather clock. The ink bottle that was in the tea room was now on the floor in the family room across the hallway. The tatami mats had been blown out of the floor and had landed where they pleased.
My father lived out of town in Aga, where he worked as a housemaster at the 11th Navy Aircraft Factory. He had taken some time off to return to our home in Danbara the night before.
He arrived home around midnight, carrying about 300 eggs laid by his hens and some vegetables that he received from a farmer on a cart hooked to his bicycle. The next morning the bomb was dropped while he was having breakfast with my mother. They were both safe. My parents went to a bomb shelter in Mt. Hiji right behind our home. A soldier who lived in the barracks behind our home saw me and said, "Your mother and father were worried about you. You should go to them immediately."
I went deep into the dark bomb shelter and found them. My father, who was usually the stern type, held and caressed my body as he cried and said "Rikuko, you are all right."
My next-door neighbor Yokota-kun was suffering from full-body burns. He was the same age as I, and he had been cleaning up at a building demolition site when the bomb was dropped. When I left home that morning, I said I was going to the demolition site as well, so when my parents saw him, they expected for me to return with the same horrible burns. Yokota-kun begged for water. His mother, who thought giving water to burn victims caused death, took away the icepack that he was trying to pry open and drink. After he died, she endlessly poured water into his mouth as she cried.
Minami danbara survived the fires since it is on the eastern side of Mt. Hijiyama, protected by the mountain from the direction of the epicenter. But the people suffered terrible burns all over their bodies. People's faces were so distorted that we couldn't tell who was who. People held their forearms out with their elbows bent, and the skin hung from their fingertips. They all asked for water in the same manner, as if they were holding their hands in prayer. "They'll die if they drink any water," someone said. People kept arriving from over the mountain. Their skin was peeling off of their whole body. A beautiful lady was carried in. She was the wife of a bathhouse owner and was hit by a falling large sickle. Her eyes were open and she was still breathing, but she passed away by that evening. At the munitions factory yard about 100 meters away from my house, full-body burn victims were being put on the ground in a row. They, too, begged for water. A military nurse busily tended to the wounded.
Many orphans were taken in at Hijiyama Grade School. The surrounding neighborhood committees took turns to take care of the children who lost their parents. We fed them, bathed them, and comforted them. "Can you please take me home with you?" said a little girl of about five, over and over.
"I'll have to ask my Mom and Dad first, and then I'll come back, O.K?" I replied, and went home to ask my mother. My mother didn't allow me to bring her back. I felt such pity for this little girl, and even now, once in a while, I remember this and wonder what became of her.
The day after the bombing, a relative from my sister's husband's family came from Muko-ujina to see how we were doing. People were saying that the Matoba to Danbara area that survived the fire might get incendiary-bombed. My family decided it was best to evacuate my sister's brother-in-law (same age as I) and me to Miyajima Island. It was around 4:00 p.m., when we left the bomb shelter in Danbara. We walked to Matoba and saw that the city of Hiroshima had burned down and was still sizzling in places. The neighborhoods Koi, Eba, and the sea by Muko-ujina could be seen at a glance, and for the first time I realized how small Hiroshima was.
Most of the bridges were burned down, and we had to cross the railroad bridges to get to Koi. The wooden ties were missing in places and my legs trembled. At the streetcar stop, by Fukuya Department Store in Hatchobori, I walked by a pile of dead soldiers. About twenty of them lay on top of each other like fallen dominos. Only their puttees remained, and the rest of their bodies were burned slick. There were many others dead, just lying around. Some were in bomb shelters, scorched and frozen on their hands and knees.
There was a large water tank across from Fukuya Department Store along the streetcar line. Several people were squatting in the tank with their legs bent, on top of one another. The whole of their bodies were burned slick, and death was everywhere. I could hear people calling for help from the underground of Fukuya. On the side of the street I saw a dead mother, who had been carrying her baby on her back, and taking her small daughter by her hand, stuck in mid-motion.
In the Kamiya-cho area, I saw a streetcar that had been burned to its metal frame. A dead body clung to the entrance of the streetcar as if it were trying to get on. And could that have been another black body hanging from the power lines? I covered my face with a towel, and I couldn't breathe through my nose because of the stench. I opened my mouth to breathe. I crossed several railroad bridges, stepping on the ties. My legs trembled uncontrollably, and I was about to give up and turn around, until I realized that I had already come halfway. When I looked down at the river, there were many people floating. Their bodies were bloated to two or three times the size. I think I was in Tokaichi area when I saw a horse lying on its side, its belly split open and its guts oozing out. A dead cow still tied to a post squatted in a position as if it was trying to escape. We finally crossed the railroad bridge and arrived in Koi. Large trucks were leaving for Miyajima and the Ono areas. My uncle held up his hand to ask for a ride. Some trucks stopped for us, but then they would look at the bed of the truck filled with people and say that they had no more room left. We ended up walking all the way to the port across from Miyajima Island. By the time we finally arrived on the island it was midnight.
From Miyajima Island, we had a clear view of the city of Hiroshima, burning for three nights and three days. It was astounding to think of how we had just walked through the city while it burned so red. The next day, I stood on the pier at Miyajima Island and saw many types of fish swimming and gathering around. Startled, I took a closer look. There was a body in the water, bloated to two or three times the normal size. Then I realized that there were five, six, or even more bodies. On their chests were tags that read Yamanaka High School for Women. An older lady noticed what I was looking at and said, "Child, don't look, just go away." I left the pier. I will never know how many bodies ended up there. Later when I attended Hiroshima Jogakuin Junior College, I heard about the death of my friend, Ms. Kajima, who also went to Jogakuin. This tragedy can only be understood by those who witnessed it. I spent a week in Miyajima Island and then returned home.
There was a serious problem with flies everywhere. The burn victims, who couldn't move, were swarmed with them. We had to shoo them away while we ate. A week after returning from Miyajima Island, I suffered from bloody diarrhea. Periodically there would be searing pain in my abdomen and I excreted bloody stool and mucus. I couldn't eat anything, and there was no medicine. I was so weak that I could hardly lift a small spoon. My mother opened up a household medical book and looked up the pressure points for diarrhea. She gave me moxibustion and saved my life. Her treatments eased the pain. Ever since then I have been suffering from anemia. I cannot live without hematopoietic medicine. The ABCC (Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission) ran many tests on me.
On January 30, 1947, my father passed away from stomach cancer. He had gone close to the epicenter to look for my sister on the day the bomb was dropped and was exposed to radiation. I got married at 25. My husband was a pharmacist and we opened a pharmacy in December of 1966. When my third child was two years old, he got ill from fatigue, anemia, and low blood pressure. Just moving his body caused him to have dry heaves. After a week of being troubled by his symptoms, we finally got him admitted to the hospital, where he stayed for two months. Ten years later, my husband died at 46. I was also 46 years old. My oldest son was a senior in high school, my second son in 9th grade, my daughter in 8th grade, and my youngest son was 19 months old.
For 25 years I struggled to raise my children. Finances were tight and I ran into many challenging situations. When I was 69, I was diagnosed with malignant cancer of the stomach, large intestine, and ovaries. Nobody can be sure if this is caused by the atomic bomb. As I battle my five illnesses, I pray that my youngest son passes the national pharmacology test this year.
I end up sobbing when I look back at all the hardship and painful days. My four children have all chosen to work in the medical field, and the oldest three are working hard on their own. Today I live happily with my oldest son and his wife. I sincerely hope that we never go to war again. I pray for all humanity to be peaceful and happy for all eternity.
…72 years old