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Mr. Yu Yeong-Su injects himself with insulin once a day. He says, "It's hard, although I'm not sure that this illness was caused by the atomic bomb." Hapchon, South Kyongsang Province, South Korea
Even at Home, Remaining Silent was the Only Option
Yu Yeong-Su (male, 75 years old)
South Kyongsang Province, South Korea
By Hajimu Takeda (male)
Hapchon County, a farming community located in the mountains of South Kyongsang Province, South Korea, is known as the "Korean Hiroshima" because more than 600 survivors of the atomic bombings live there. Mr. Yu Yeong-Su (75), who was called Eishu Yanagawa when he lived in Japan, now lives at the Hapchon Welfare Center for Atomic Bomb Survivors. He spoke with the reporter in fluent Japanese, holding family pictures in his hand, and told of his life in Japan before the bombing of Hiroshima. Mr. Yu Yeong-Su said, "I might have still been living in Japan if it were not for the A-bomb."
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His parents had been farmers in Hapchon, but Mr. Yu himself was born in Osaka City. His father supported the family, which included five children, by means of hard manual labor. "Being so poor, I had no choice but to come to Japan for subsistence," his father used to say. The family moved to Hiroshima when Mr. Yu was five.
At his primary school in Yuwa-mura, Saeki-gun (present-day Yuwa, Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture), he was often sneered at for being a "Chosen" (a derogatory word for a Korean person) by his classmates. His teacher encouraged him, however, saying, "You are smart. Study hard to be a lawyer." Mr. Yu entered Sanyo Middle School in April 1945. He was one of only five classmates out of sixty who continued on to middle school.
On that morning, Mr. Yu left his uncle's home in Kusatsu (present-day Nishi Ward, Hiroshima), where he had been boarding, wearing his school cap and uniform as usual, and headed for the school in Takara-machi (present-day Naka Ward, Hiroshima) by train. While he was standing on the platform of Koi Station (present-day Nishi-Hiroshima Station) waiting to change trains, a bluish-white flash hit him and a blast deafened his ears. He was about 2.5 kilometers [1.6 miles] away from the hypocenter at the time of the explosion. At the same moment he was crawling under a nearby train car for shelter, the station building collapsed, scattering debris everywhere.
His heart was pounding. After a while, he managed to worm his way out and was shocked at what he saw. Every building had fallen down, and stark-naked people were crying for help. The streets were full of the wounded, their skin hanging down like banana peels.
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He ran for his life back to his uncle's home, and there he met his parents, who had escaped exposure to fallout because they lived in Yuwa-mura. That night the family entered Hiroshima City to search for his elder brother, whose fate was still unknown. The next day he was found at an aid station, badly wounded in the shoulder. Immediately after that his mother, a person who had been in perfect health, came down with a high fever and collapsed. She vomited blood, suffered from persistent diarrhea, and couldn't eat. The village doctor only shook his head sadly and said he didn't know how to treat her. They had no money to buy any drugs and she died two months later at age 38. The neighbors gossiped that she had inhaled poisons given off by the atom bomb.
Badly shaken by her death, his father decided to return to his country, partly because there was a rumor that Koreans living in Japan might be killed (as subversive elements). At the end of that year the Yu family boarded a ferryboat at the port of Senzaki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, carrying his mother's remains with them.
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Life in their "homeland," where young Yu hardly spoke the language, was harsh. They lived packed in a tiny shed inhabited by thirteen people, including their relatives. They managed to stay alive, often subsisting on a substitute food called inu-mochi (lit. "dog rice cake") mixed together with weeds - a food they only ate for survival because there was nothing else.
Just as their hard life was beginning to improve a little, the Korean War broke out. The village in Hapchon where they were staying turned into a battleground, and they ran frantically to escape into the mountains.
There was a moment when Mr. Yu resigned himself to death. While hiding in a tobacco field he was caught by some North Korean soldiers who were being pursued by soldiers from South Korea. The North Koreans ordered him to show the way, but, being a returnee from Japan, he didn't know the area well and felt at a loss to explain. Then one of the soldiers said, "I'll kill you," and pointed a pistol at his chest. Another villager quickly volunteered to guide them, and Mr. Yu, utterly dumfounded, found himself saved.
Mr. Yu was conscripted into the South Korean army, and served for 51 months from age 20 to age 26. He was sent to the front to work as a member of the military police force. When a fellow soldier said that the US was planning to use an atomic bomb to bring about a quick end to the war, he had a flashback to his own experience with the atomic bomb, and he shook with rage. But he kept his mouth shut because in Korea there was a tendency to see the atomic bombing in connection with the liberation of the homeland. Many Koreans believed that the use of atom bombs to defeat Japan had brought about an end to Japan's colonial rule. There was also discrimination against atomic bombing survivors. He decided never to reveal what he had been through.
* * *
He went to night school and passed the examination for judicial scrivener at age 42, thirty years after the bombing. He and his wife, Sim Yeong-Ja (who was also a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima), had four children. He was able to send all four of them to college. In his mid-sixties, he suddenly fell ill while at a public bath, and the right side of his body became paralyzed. It turned out to have been a stroke.
Mr. Yu visited Hiroshima on his own in May 1997 and obtained the Atomic Bomb Survivor Health Book. Thus at last, after half a century, he was certified as a "Survivor of the Atomic Bombing" by the Japanese government. However, when he left Japan, he stopped receiving his health management allowance (about 30,000 yen per month). This situation continued until 2003.
* * *
About three years ago he and his wife left their home in Hapchon and moved to the Welfare Center. Now they share life in a community with about 80 other atomic bombing survivors. They thought that for their remaining few years it would be more restful living with other atomic bombing survivors, who have a shared experience. He injects insulin into his abdomen every morning, takes eleven different medicines, and relates his experience with the atomic bombing to young Koreans and Japanese who visit him from time to time.
Mr. Yu always concludes his testimony about the atomic bombing with the following words, "Human beings make various mistakes, but I still hold onto the hope that nuclear weapons can be eliminated."
* 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), June 4, 2008.