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Masaki Hironaka recalling his father. He remembers feeling lonely every day when his father dropped him off at kindergarten. Teshiro-cho, Fukuyama City, Hiroshima.
The Vivid Memory of my Father's Burned Back
Masaki Hironaka (male, 70 years old)
Fukuyama City, Hiroshima
By Hiroshi Nakano (male)
Masaki Hironaka's father, Hajime. (Photo taken in 1944, courtesy of Mr. Hironaka)
He chokes up every time he remembers his father's severely burned back. "It always brings me back to the time when I was five," said Masaki Hironaka (70), as he sobs during an interview in Fukuyama. He says he can't help crying when he tells children his experiences of the atomic bombing. The cartoons that he drew tell his vivid memories of that summer.
* * *
Mr. Hironaka's father was strict, warm-hearted, and always loved his family. In the morning of August 6, 1945, his father, Hajime, age 37 at the time, was dressed in a suit and on his way to work at the Hiroshima Railway Bureau. Half an hour after he left home, a roaring sound and a blast swept the city. Mr. Hironaka, who was playing in a stream in front of his home, fell into the water. Fortunately, the hill behind his home had protected him from the full impact of the blast. He only got lightly injured, and his little sister and mother who were in the house were also safe. Later, from an air-raid shelter, he saw black rain pouring down.
The rain weakened in the afternoon, and he, his mother and little sister went home where they found four male strangers in about their 30s. Two of them were sitting at the entrance, and the other two were lying down in a room. All of them were severely burned with the skins of their faces and hands hanging down like threads. It was absolutely horrible. "Water, please," said the men. So his mother and little sister gave them some water. Many people who were also badly burned went past their house.
Night came, but his father did not come home. Some neighbors said that his father might be at the school nearby. Mr. Hironaka, his mother and little sister went to the school to look for their father. On the way, he checked with every person with severe burns who passed by whether he was his father. He kept believing that his father was safe. The only father he remembered was that healthy father he saw earlier that morning.
They arrived at the school to find the school grounds filled with people seeking their families. Every time he saw people with terrible burns lying on the ground, he felt heartbroken for them. And since his father wasn't there, worry wrung his heart.
They went back home to find father crouched in the dark entrance. Though his father also had those skin threads hanging down all over his body, he was very happy to see him. "Father!" he called out. His father replied saying, "I had also been looking for you all. Please, give me water to cool down my body." His voice was so weak and faint. He was no longer the gallant father in a suit.
His father experienced the atomic bombing on the streetcar. His back was covered with thick pieces of glass. Mr. Hironaka tried to pull them out at his father's request, but the glass pieces had pierced too deeply that he couldn't remove them with his hands. He tried with pliers, but they only broke the pieces even smaller.
"I think my father thought that his life would end soon. His request for me to pull the glass pieces out was, I feel, to have me remember him in this way." This is what Mr. Hironaka believes after 65 years.
* * *
The next day, his father began suffering more. In the late afternoon, his mother called him saying, "Masaki, father is suffering. Come and stay by him." However, he refused to do so. He thought he would be embarrassed if his family saw him crying. Instead he banged his head against a pillar and cried, suppressing his voice. He remembered two of his father's backs; one on which his father used to carry him, and the other that was now covered with burns. "How painful it is to say goodbye to my father," he thought. Among chirps of cicadas coming through a window with its glass blown out, he heard his mother calling him.
His father soon passed away. A white cloth was placed on his face. Under the cloth, his father's face looked as if he had been released from all suffering and was at peace like he always was when he was still alive.
* * *
After the war, Mr. Hironaka moved to his father's hometown of Fukuyama, where he finished high school and worked for a textile company and an electrical engineering firm. On August 6, 2002, following retirement, he attended a local memorial service. This experience made him concerned since he saw that only small numbers of atomic bomb survivors were attending the service, and that the attendants were mostly elderly people. It made him decide to pass on his own experiences to younger generations while his memory was still clear.
He drew cartoons and wrote text on what happened in the summer of 1945 up to his father's death. As he wrote, to his surprise, he was able to remember each event very clearly. He colored the cartoons with six colored pencils. Inside the air raid shelter; injured people walking past his house; his father's death, all the scenes that five-year-old Masaki witnessed were revived in the form of a 29-page cartoon book. When his mother came home from the nursing home for dementia patients where she had lived at the time, he showed her the cartoon book. She burst into tears and said in a small voice, "Thank you."
Mr. Hironaka showed the book to his two sons. He did not ask them what they thought because his sons had watched his tireless efforts to leave his memories of the atomic bombing and he believes his thoughts must be communicated to his sons.
* * *
In August 2006, Mr. Hironaka visited a junior high school in Fukuyama upon a request from an acquaintance who was a member of an organization for atomic bomb survivors. It was the first time he related his experiences and showed his cartoon book. Students got into his story so seriously that, when it came to the scene of his father's death, some of the students were brought to tears. That in turn moved Masaki. "I will communicate my experiences to young people as earnestly as I can." It was then that he made up his mind to become a storyteller of his atomic bomb experience. In April 2010, as a representative of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, he is going to visit New York, where a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference is taking place. In this American city, he is going to communicate his experiences to young people.
Every day Mr. Hironaka talks to his father, who is now enshrined in the family altar. "Father, I'm sincerely doing what I can as an A-bomb storyteller." As he talks to his father, he can't help shedding tears.
* 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), March 3, 2010.