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For Those Who Pray for Peace
Encountering the Atomic Bomb as a 4th Grade Student

Kikuko Teshima(maiden name,yoshida)
6th Graduating Class of Hiroshima Jogakuin High School Residing in Asaminami-ku, Hiroshima City

Encountering the Atomic Bomb

 In August 1945, I was in the 4th grade at Oshiba Grade School. I lived on the edge of a residential neighborhood about 2.3 kilometers north of the city center. The situation with the war was getting worse and worse, and the food rations were often interrupted. My parents and four sisters had to cultivate the street in front of our house to grow corn and sweet potatoes in order to supplement our diet. I remember thinking, while I helped water our crops, that the summer was exceptionally hot.

 In those days students, in the 4th grade and younger, studied in nearby temples and halls, and only the 5th and 6th grade students used the school campus. Since I was in the 4th grade, I went to study in a large farm house with a grass roof across the field from our house. My sister, who was in the 6th grade went to school, which was about 200 meters east of our house.

 On the morning of August 6, I went to the farm house, carrying my air raid hood as usual. The air raid warning siren sounded when I was playing in the "classroom." Shortly afterwards, the warning was lifted, and I went out to the garden to play with a few other children. The sky was clear and it was already too hot in the direct sunlight. I went under a tree for shade and joined a circle of about six kids playing rock, paper, and scissors. Suddenly, there was a bright flash. My body was lifted up with the powerful blast that was accompanied by a roar. It turned dark with dust and ashes and I couldn't tell what was what. Over my head was something like a tree branch. Around me, empty drum barrels and planks of wood piled on top of each other. It was such a terrible sight, I broke out crying, "Mother! mother!" I saw a boy lying by my feet, covered in soot. I was playing rock, paper, and scissors with him just moments ago. I instinctively sensed that the boy was dead.

 Fortunately I was in the shade and wasn't burned. The farmhouse with the grass roof caught on fire, gaining momentum with each minute. Feeling the heat on my back, I ran for my life, back to my house. As I crossed the vegetable field barefoot, the dirt seemed to swell in mounds. When I got near my home I noticed that most of the houses were tilted to one side and looked as though they were about to collapse. People were running left and right, shouting out at each other.

 When I arrived at the front door, Mother jumped out and hugged me. She was bleeding. Shattered glass stuck out from her forehead. My 5-year-old sister Hisayo and 1-year-old sister Setsuko were unhurt. But they were terrified and clung to her as they said in wavering voices, "Mother, mother." The tatami mat by the front door had buckled out of the floor. The furniture was in disarray, and we couldn't get in the house. Somehow, Mother managed to go in and drag out some brancket and clothes.

 Just then, my sister, who was in the 6th grade, came home covered in blood and holding out her arms. Her clothes were torn to shreds and her arms were puffed up from burns. It was unbearable to look at her. I trembled, thinking about what could become of her. Mother covered my sister's head with a towel and got ready to take her to a first aid station north of the house. She found a hand cart and laid my sister on it. Mother carried Setsuko on her back and I took Hisayo by her hand and walked towards the national highway 50 meters to the west.

 When I looked back, I saw the town already engulfed in black smoke and red flames. The fire had approached to a point about 500 meters south of where we were. People fleeing from the city due north overflowed in the road. Their skin was charred, covered in soot, their hair stood on end, and their tattered clothes clung to their skin. It was a strange sight. It was like seeing hell on earth. We joined the line of people and headed north.

 There was a person walking next to me who was severely burned. Her skin hung down, and she was carrying something over her belly that looked like a long piece of cloth. I heard someone say, "Those are her intestines. She's not going to make it." Soon she fell over on the side of the street. There were others who ran out of strength and sat down or fell over. Others didn't have the spirit to care or strength to help and just kept walking. There were soldiers and horses. A horse suddenly ran out into the fields that spread along each side of the national highway and collapsed. On the sides of the road were many dead bodies and people who could no longer walk. I couldn't afford to think. I just held Hisayo's hand tightly and followed after Mother.

 I'm not sure how much time had passed. Sometime in the afternoon, Mother got off the national highway. We were about 10 kilometers north of the city (currently,Yasufuruichi). She took us under a bridge near a stream (currently,Furukawa River) and told us to wait there until she returned. She said she was going to bring my older sister to a first aid station since her condition was worsening. I waited quietly with Hisayo under the bridge. A kind lady from a farmhouse on the other side of the rice paddies came out and gave us some rice balls.

 "Something serious happened in town, didn't it", she said. I noticed how hungry I was. Rain started to fall while we crouched under the bridge. The sky darkened and the ground was covered in rainwater as black as ink.

 Mother finally returned a little before sunset. My sister was lying on the hand cart and had a bandage on her head. She groaned and complained about her pain. The city was still burning and the strange stench could be smelled all the way over to the countryside. But mother decided to turn back. "I want to check on the house. Father might come home," she said. I think it was around 4 or 5 p.m. We walked against the stream of people evacuating to the north.

 When we got back, we saw that everything in the area, including our house, had been burned down. We stood in a daze in front of the smoldering ruins. Mother dug out some rice and pumpkins from the bomb shelter we had in the yard, and started preparing the food. Just then, Father came home. He seemed to be free of burns and injuries and we all rejoiced. At the time, Father was on communication duty in the caves of the hills near the port of Hiroshima Bay. He had left Ujina around 8 a.m. after getting off night duty and was caught in the bombing on his way home.  

 The sunset and embers glowed in the burned field around us. An indescribable, nose-piercing stench hung in the hot and muggy air. Father gathered some tin sheets and planks that survived the fire and made a place for the family to sleep.

 According to my father's story, he was in a streetcar, near the Ujina line streetcar stop in front of Hiroshima Instructor High School. There was a bright flash and the streetcar came to a sudden halt. He was crushed under the bodies of other passengers. Not knowing what happened, he crawled out of the streetcar, and saw the horrible sight of people covered in burns running around. He tried to walk home but couldn't walk through the city that had caught fire. He crossed the rivers at low tide (there are seven rivers in Hiroshima city), went all the way to Mt. Mitaki in the west, and finally made it home at dusk. Many burn victims and people fleeing the heat of the fire jumped into the rivers. Many of them died along the riverbanks.

 My sister's condition was deteriorating. Mother was caring for her, when she found something white on my sister's head. They took a careful look and found something like a rock buried in there. Father took her to the first aid station at Oshiba Grade School and had a medical officer examine her. "It seems a piece of shingle is buried deep, causing meningitis. But there's nothing much we can do," said the medical officer, as he pulled out the piece of shingle and put some mercurochrome on the wound. The offending piece was triangular and about 4 centimeters across. The roof shingle was blown off and broken in the blast and had buried itself in my sister's head. Since she was outside in the schoolyard, she had suffered burns on the body parts that were exposed and the skin on her arms and legs were peeling off.

 They kept my sister in a classroom, crowded with people lying on straw mats on the floor. There were people begging for water, and others writhed in pain, covered in blood. I was too frightened to go in the classroom to see my sister, and I stayed out in the hallway. According to mother, lying next to my sister was a person whose whole back suffered burns, and the maggots growing in the wounds would crawl over to my sister. Mother desperately picked out the maggots with chopsticks.

 Mother tried her best to care for my sister, tending to her wounds and feeding her juice from tomatoes. But despite her efforts, my sister died while unconscious on August 21. The city crematorium was overwhelmed with the number of the dead so they cremated my sister's body in the schoolyard. Father bawled. Mother couldn't bear to watch them torch my sister's body, and she took us aside and cried all the way home. There was nothing we could do and we just huddled together, crying. Father came home at dusk. It took that long for my sister's body to burn to the bones. He buried her bones at the gravesite in Mt.Hiji. We fell silent in our heart-rending sorrow.

 Day after day, people from the neighborhood association gathered dead bodies, piled them up and covered them with tin sheets to burn them. The awful stench permeated the air. At night, I remember being terrified by the blue glow of emitted phosphorus over the ember. Even now, when I see a heat haze shimmering over the asphalt on a hot summer day, the stench comes back to me and makes me feel sick.

 Father began to have stomach troubles about 20 days after the bomb. He had diarrhea and high fever. As he combed his hair in the morning, he would look into a hand mirror and say, "I'm losing a whole lot of hair." I was filled with an indescribable feeling of anxiety. I had heard people in the neighborhood speaking to each other: "People who were in 'Pika ' end up dying suddenly even if they seem healthy," or, "It's too late when they start losing their hair." Mother and I held our breath in worry every day. We fed Father uncooked carrots and onions that we had kept in the bomb shelter. Eventually, he recovered.

 There was no food in the city. In the vegetable field in front of our house, the pumpkins were ripening. The whole family who owned the field had died, and we divided the crop among the neighborhood. Pumpkins were a delicacy. We usually ate sweet potato stems. Once when Mother was away taking care of my older sister, I decided to cook on the barbeque pit, imitating the ladies in my neighborhood. I put in some kindling and struck a match for the first time in my life. My heart pounded as I put over the fire a frying pan scavenged from the rubble. I took sweet potato stems, broke them into pieces of about 5 centimeters, poured in some oil and fried them. I cooked rice in a cooking pot. I did my best to take care of my younger sisters while mother was away. Once in a while, Mother would return and peek in and praise me. "Kikuko, you're so good at this," she would say. Flattered, I told myself that I would take good care of my sisters. I looked around for other edible grass and found some lambsquarters, a weed with a reddish hue, and boiled them. I tried digging for sweet potatoes but they were still about the size of my pinky and too small and tough to eat.

Losing the War

 On August 15, I heard the sound of the radio coming from a room where people of the neighborhood gathered. The mood was solemn and I couldn't hear what was being said over the static. Apparently, it was the emperor speaking. The older ladies who heard the report on the radio sank down helplessly and started wailing. I didn't even know what was going on, but I clung to mother and cried with them. Even the brawny men were crying. When I asked mother what had happened, she told me quietly that we had lost the war.

 Then one of our neighbors, Mrs. Kono, staggered into the room and hugged mother and the other ladies and started bawling. They tried to console Mrs. Kono, but there was a sorrowful feeling in the air and my heart filled with remorse for her. Mrs. Kono had just received news that her daughter, who had been missing, was found dead in a fire cistern in the city. Every family had lost someone. Our houses were burned down and now we had lost the war. I remember feeling fearful over what was in store for us.

 September passed and it was time to go back to school. The school building was useless. The roof was gone and the 1st floor was completely smashed under the weight of the 2nd floor. We attended class in the shade of the trees in schoolyard. Classes were cancelled on rainy days. They didn't have any textbooks or teaching supplies. The rationed straw paper and pencils were not enough for actual academics. The teachers came and went. I remember enjoying the scary tales Mr. Sanno told us every once in a while. It was a nice break from the sorrow over losing family members and the hard work of cleaning up the debris. I looked forward to hearing the ghost stories, but soon that teacher also stopped coming.

Attacked by a Typhoon

 That fall, a powerful typhoon landed on Hiroshima. The violent rains lasted into the night, while we huddled together in our small hut. Suddenly, my sister's photograph, which had been hanging on a post, fell off. As if on cue, a strong gust of wind tore off the tin sheet that served as the roof and the posts fell over. We scrambled to a concrete wall that had survived the fires of the bomb and hid behind it. Out of the blue, the rain and wind subsided and I could see the moon clearly against the sky without a single cloud. There was silence. It was a strange deep silence, completely devoid of any sound. Later I learned that we had been in the eye of the typhoon.

 After a little while, I heard a shout break the still of the night. "The dyke broke!" It was the voice of the lady who lived near the "Old Camphor Tree of Shinjo" about 100 meters north. She had a mental handicap and was well known in our neighborhood for often yelling in the streets. I didn't think much of what she said, only making a mental note to myself that she too had survived the bomb. But then water started flooding the area. Father was away in Tottori on business, and it was just Mother and my sisters there.

 I hurried to Mother, who was stumbling while carrying my baby sister. We ran to Yokogawa. The water had risen up to my knees and more flowed from behind. The water kept rising and soon reached the top of my thighs. It became harder to run. We ran into a home that had survived the fire and asked them to let us stay. "We're overcrowded in here. You can't stay," they said. We found a home on high ground a few houses down and asked if the owners would take us in. This time the kind strangers agreed and put us up on the second floor. The house was already filled with people from the neighborhood. They all watched the floodwaters flow under the window in silence.

 The flood cleansed the city. All the debris was washed away. When we faced south from our hut, we could see Ninoshima Island about 20 kilometers away stand out clearly over the sea. There was nothing left in the city to obstruct our view. The flood took everything, including the small hut that we were living in, floor and all. Even the meager amount of clothes and food that we scavenged from the ruins were washed away, and we literally had nothing left except for the clothes on our backs. Losing the war was sad, but even worse was watching people's lives being destroyed in an instant. We moved in to our relative's house that survived the bombing, but it took years before we recovered enough to live life calmly again.

A Sign of Recovery

 During the 6th grade, I transferred to Honkawa Grade School. The school building was built out of concrete, which was rare for the time. Our days were spent cleaning up bent pieces of iron framework or chunks of concrete. We got covered in dust as, piece by piece, we picked up the rubble, and then they held class briefly. The hardwood floor of the classrooms had burned off and the concrete underneath was exposed. It was bumpy like a hot water bag and difficult to walk on. We went through even teachers in one year, and there was hardly enough time to remember their names. Some of the students had survived the bomb thanks to the evacuation of pupils, but were orphaned when the rest of their family members died. They lived with other relatives. We were all traumatized one way or another, and yet, as resilient children, we looked forward to recess when we played games in the schoolyard.

 In the summertime we swam every day in the river in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome. The boys would jump off Aioi Bridge, but I stayed on the edge of the river since I couldn't swim. Bones of the bomb victims still lay here and there in the stone walls, on the edge of the river. It gives me the shivers looking back on it, to think that we swam among the remains of the dead.

 Gradually, calm visited people's hearts and along with the hammering sounds of reconstruction, people started calling out for peace. We didn't want to see the disaster of the atomic bomb repeated in history. On August 6, 1947, the Mayor of Hiroshima, Shinzo Hamai called out to the world our "Declaration of Peace."

 In December of that year, the Emperor visited Hiroshima. I joined the crowd of citizens gathered around Hiroshima Castle. I couldn't see very well through the wall of people, but what I did see was a rather ordinary man dressed in a subdued coat. He was wearing tall boots and the mud on his boots left a strong impression in my mind. The people were stirred and excited. At the time I didn't understand the significance of seeing someone who had been so admired from afar appearing in front of us as a plain and normal person.

 When I advanced to middle school, the education system changed to a 6-3-3 co-ed system, and middle school became compulsory. My father had me take the entrance exam for Hiroshima Jogakuin, a Christian women's school. Jogakuin was the first school in the city to rebuild its school building after the bomb. My father didn't believe in young men and women studying side by side, and had resistance towards the new co-ed system. Our environment was not yet suitable for studying, but anyhow my new student life began at Hiroshima Jogakuin. It was the spring of 1948.

 During the war, we had been taught that "The Americans and the English are devils" and studying English was forbidden. However, under the new democracy the education system changed quite a bit. We had some English teachers sent from American churches. They couldn't speak any Japanese, and communication in English class was very difficult. Hiroshima was poor and the church provided goods like stationary and cotton cloth with printed flowers. I enjoyed wearing the blouse that Mother made out of the cloth I received. Some of the teachers had lost family members in the war, and I was humbled by their dedication to their work.

A Wish for World Peace

 In 1952, for the 7th anniversary of the Atomic Bomb, they built a new monument was built in Peace Memorial Park. A list of names of the casualties was stored inside the monument. On the plaque the engraved words read, "Let all the souls here rest in peace; For we shall not repeat the evile." Once there was some controversy surrounding this sentence, but many movements dedicated to world peace were born around this time. Then again there were those survivors who felt the movements were too political for their taste. Many were paralyzed by their grief and found it impossible to speak about their experiences.

 Today, lots of nuclear weapons exist around the world, and some large nations even conduct seaside nuclear testing. The crime against mankind has not been amended. Many countries, whether they own nuclear weapons or not, are fighting with each other over religious or economical conflicts. Even now, 60 years after the war, the world seems to be trapped in the cycle of hate and revenge.

 As a citizen of Hiroshima, I think it is very important to talk about how the war was started, how the civilians suffered, and how it ended. As an atomic bomb survivor, I hope that a disaster such as this is never repeated. I pray sincerely from the bottom of my heart for everlasting world peace.

…69 years old