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Kazue Kusata holding a piece of glass that was stuck in her back for 42 years.
An Emotional Scar Still in My Dreams
Kazue Kusata (female, 78 years old)
By Hajimu Takeda (male)
Kazue Kusata, holding an award certificate, in a group photo when her softball team captured their first victory two years after the A-bomb (taken in 1947).
The score was tied, 1 to 1. The batter took a full swing and the ball flew in a big arc. The minute that the outfielder running after the ball desperately caught it, a girl made a dash from third base. When she ran past home base, she heard cries of joy from the bench.
In June 1947, when Ms. Kazue Kusata was a softball player for Yasuda Girls Senior High School (present-day Yasuda Girls Junior High and High School), she scored the winning run in her first victory in the prefectural tournament held on the Nikoh Park Grounds (present-day Kure Nikoh Baseball Stadium) in Kure City. It was a rewarding moment for her since she dedicated herself to softball practice day in and day out as she tried to shake off the nightmare of the war two years before.
* * *
On August 6, 1945, Ms. Kusata, on her way to school, stopped by her schoolmate's house about 1.5 kilometers [0.9 mile] away from the hypocenter. At that moment, she was covered in a yellow light and felt the ground shaking, and then found herself trapped under the collapsed roof. She didn't remember any sounds from that moment on.
Before she knew it, the blue sky had disappeared and she couldn't see her surroundings clearly, as if a smoke screen had been deployed. The tatami (straw mat) against which she was slammed was burned black like a broiled fish, and she was showered with shards of glass. Her skin on both legs from thigh to toes was burned. When she stood up in fear, she saw a girl in a school uniform with a face bloated like a balloon. On the verge of asking, "Who are you," she realized that she hardly recognized her classmate who once had been popular for her beauty.
Not really knowing what had happened, Ms. Kusata reached her farm house some 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] away the next day and then collapsed right away. She couldn't get up until October. The raised sections of her skin remained keloidal even after they stopped hurting. Her beautiful classmate died from radiation sickness.
* * *
"Why don't you play softball?" It was about one year after the A-bomb. Ms. Kusata, back at her girls' school, was playing volleyball on the grounds. When asked by then-25-year-old math teacher Mr. Minoru Yasuda (87), she could not reply to him for some moments.
"I won't play a man's sport," Ms. Kusata had initially told her teacher. But she became serious about playing softball because she felt more refreshed than ever by throwing balls and swinging bats while her hands became covered with cuts and bruises.
It was the autumn of 1946 when about 10 girls stood on the school grounds, which had burned down and then cleared. As the first-ever in the country, a softball club was set up at the girls' school, whose 324 teachers and students had become victims of the A-bomb. They wore monpe (women's traditional work pants) and were barefoot. They had no gloves, either. Still, the girls ran after balls until after dark each day. Foulmouthed grownups would mock them by saying, "A woman playing ball with a wooden pestle will never marry!" Back in those days, women's sports were not so common, and Hiroshima had not seen the start of any reconstruction, yet.
In post-war Hiroshima, a rumor got around that a man had better not marry a woman exposed to the A-bomb. Because of this, women like Ms. Kusata, who suffered from keloids, thought they would have to give up on having a decent life. These thoughts disappeared while she was playing softball; nobody spoke about the A-bomb then.
Selected as first captain of her team, Ms. Kusata was energetic, like a different person on the field. In contrast, she became depressed when summer came. After softball practice, the team decided to swim in the river behind the school to increase their physical strength. She was the only one on her team who suffered from keloids, so really hated wearing a swimsuit. Sensing her feelings, Mr. Yasuda asked her, "You don't want your scars to be seen, do you?" She was too embarrassed to nod. But she shrugged off the embarrassment by telling herself that she was the captain; once she did that she felt she had overcome something.
* * *
After graduation, she was solicited to join an adult softball team. But she yielded to her parents' opposition and got married at age 21. After that, she lived in the post-war years helping her husband's timber company.
Whenever she watched pro-baseball or high-school baseball games, she could forget about being exposed to the A-bomb. She was an ardent fan of the Hiroshima Carps that was established in 1950, and was energized by great plays made by Ryohei Hasegawa, dubbed "the Little Great Pitcher."
The memory of the A-bomb she tried to keep away would come back to her relentlessly from time to time, such as when she became a mother and went swimming in the sea, or when she went to a hot spring on a company trip. She felt depressed when she thought about exposing her legs with the keloid scars.
Forty-two years after the A-bomb, she felt pain in her left back. When she had surgery, a triangular piece of glass, two centimeters [0.8 inch] long and one centimeter [0.4 inch] wide, was discovered inside her body. It was glass that had showered her from her classmate's house when hit by the A-bomb; a product of evil. Yet, she could not throw it away for some reason. Even with such a thing inside her body, she had come through life without yielding to it. As late as 50 years after the A-bomb, she eventually saw it as a "jewel," proof of her survival.
* * *
It was several dozen years after graduation when she heard that Mr. Yasuda had organized the softball club with his thought, "I have to create something where my students, who have lost everything due to the A-bomb, can find hope. Otherwise, we can't reconstruct our school."
That teacher, Mr. Yasuda, passed away at age 87 on the 20th of the previous month. In his later years, he served as president of Yasuda School. Three of the first team members, including Ms. Kusata, attended his funeral held at a temple in Nishi Ward, Hiroshima. "The emotional scars forced on me will never go away all my life. But, thanks to softball, I have gotten through life up to today."
Although the experience of being hit by the A-bomb still comes to her in a dream and she groans in that nightmare, she will never lose her hope to live.
* * *
This year marks the 63rd year since that summer. That year alone, more than 200,000 people were killed by the A-bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and today as many as 251,800 people in Japan and overseas have an A-bomb Survivor Health Book. The forced life as an A-bomb survivor can be an epigram for us living in "the nuclear age." We would like to start our journey of tracing the lives of A-bomb survivors and listening to their thoughts and feelings.
* Originally published in Japanese in the series "聞きたかったこと [So tell me… about Hiroshima],"
The Asahi Shimbun (Hiroshima morning edition), April 2, 2008.