JAPANESE

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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

So tell me... about Hiroshima
Burned Bodies Become the Seal of Sorrow
Yutaro Hata (male, 78 years old)
Aki Ward, Hiroshima
By Yohei Seya (male)

photo Hata appears healthy, but he says he tends to feel unwell on days when he undergoes dialysis. "I am currently in the process of applying for official recognition as a victim of A-bomb disease. It would be tough if I were not acknowledged for that."

Every time a family member dies, or when he hears the news of the passing of an acquaintance or on TV of some famous person, whenever someone dies, Hata-san is reminded of a certain scene.

"What happens to us when we die? I think I know what 'death' means because I have experienced that smell, that feeling."

Yutaro Hata cremated the bodies of his neighbors at a "cremation site" near his home for several days after the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He said, "It was so dreadful that I wish I would never have to remember it," but shared his experience with the interviewer.

* * *

Hata-san was fifteen at the time. As part of student mobilization efforts, he and his classmates were working as assistants training female students at a factory located two kilometers [1.2 miles] from the hypocenter, in Yoshijima, Hagoromo-cho (present-day Yoshijima district, Naka Ward, Hiroshima).

A few minutes after the 8:00 a.m. radio exercise program finished, there was a sudden flash of light and a bomb blast, and they were struck by shattered window glass.

All he could remember was immediately squatting down, with his eyes closed. Then he saw that he was bleeding from pieces of broken glass that had pierced his face and arms. As he strained to see into the dust-filled factory, he saw many female students who had been badly injured by pieces of glass.

He was given first aid in the medical office, and since he had suffered only minor injuries, he was told to go home. At first he thought a bomb had been dropped very close to the factory, but when he went outside, he was stunned to see a sea of fire all around him. He saw many bodies floating down the river; but he couldn't tell whether they were horses or humans. He walked with great determination for hours to his home in Nakano Village, Aki district (present-day Aki Ward, Hiroshima), a distance of about 15 kilometers [9.3 miles].

* * *

Over the following days he gradually found out what had happened to his neighbors. Many of them were commuters to the city center and quite a number had perished.

But he had no time for grieving. In those days, there was a "cremation site" on a hillside near his home. And as an indispensible able-bodied male, he was assigned the task of cremating bodies.

Under the roof of the cremation site, there was a hole dug in the ground just big enough for one body. Into the hole he would first lay dry pine needles and place firewood on top, without stacking it too tightly. He would then roll the body into the hole and set fire to it.

"Their faces were so bloated I couldn't tell who it was, but neighbors would deliver a body, saying it was 'Mr. so-and-so.' All I could do was silently pray, 'Thank you for all your efforts.' "

It was difficult to keep the fire going, and it took an entire evening to completely incinerate one body. The remains of bodies that weren't completely incinerated would rot, get infested by maggots, and develop a putrid odor. So, Hata would keep checking on the fire throughout the night.

He continued to work tirelessly, incinerating around ten dead bodies over three or four days.

"I was consumed with sadness and pain, but I suppressed it. There was no time or place to express it." Since then he has never returned to the cremation site.

* * *

After the war Hata-san found employment as a salesman for a car manufacturer. He was so busy with daily life that he did not reflect on his wartime experiences. But whenever he was confronted with someone's death, memories of those scenes came flooding back.

In 1973, his father died of stomach cancer. His father was visiting relatives in Kawaramachi (present-day Naka Ward) and was exposed to the A-bomb near the Taisho Bridge (in Minami Ward). After the funeral, the coffin containing his father's body was placed in the incinerator, and was returned as bones after just a few hours. "Back then [immediately after the A-bomb blast in Hiroshima], there was such a lot of work I had to do." But the short time it took for his father's remains to be cremated greatly added to his sadness.

And now Hata-san has become conscious of his own death. He has had colorectal cancer and several other health problems, and is undergoing dialysis three times a week. He also suffers from anemia and high blood pressure, and spends all day in bed when he is physically unwell.

He tells me that three friends, close to him in age, who had been undergoing dialysis at the same hospital, passed away this year. He admits to feeling concerned, "It could be my turn any day."

He is not afraid of dying, but he says he has learned something since he became conscious of death.

"Dying is transient. But it really is very sad."

* 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), May 14, 2009.