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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

So tell me... about Hiroshima
Hard to Live if "All Alone"
Fusako Kawaguchi (female, 97 years old)
Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima
By Miho Kato (female)

photo Fusako Kawaguchi searches her memory while looking at her photo album (Yagi 3-chome, Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima City

photo Fusako (second from right), her late first husband and children, about 1943

"An old woman came to me, crying, 'Help me!' One breast was dangling with the flesh sloughed off, showing bones. The skin on my own face was also peeled off and drooping. I was so horrified to look at her."

Reading the collection of hibakusha testimonies, Pika ni yakarete (Burned by the A-Bomb Flash), published this past summer by Hiroshima Kyoritsu Hospital (Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima), I was overwhelmed by the experience of Fusako Kawaguchi (97, residing in Asaminami Ward). The atrocious situation she witnessed was vividly described there, as told to the hospital staff. She concluded, "I thought I have to tell these things to younger people."

What does she have to tell us while she can? I visited her and asked. "But there were more difficult things in my life than the A-bombing." She let out a long sigh and searched her memory.

* * *

Fusako was born as the third daughter to a farming family in Shimane Prefecture and was soon adopted by her relatives. When she was in the third grade of elementary school, she was taken back to her birth home. But her birth mother was cold to her, saying, "Fusako has been away from this house for a long time," and sold her clothes to neighbors without asking. She was made to eat at a separate table from her parents. From this experience, she set her mind on living by herself without relying on her family or relatives.

She got married in 1933 and traveled with her husband to Pusan, Korea to help with his brother's wholesale business of knitted products. Feeling unsure of the future of the business as war broke out between Japan and China, they left Pusan in 1939. Recommended by friends, the couple settled down in Minamitakeya-cho (present-day Naka Ward), in Hiroshima City.

Her husband, who was in frail health, contracted tuberculosis and tended to be ill in bed. Due to a shortage of food, her two children had poor nutrition. Her daughter contracted TB and died in January 1943 at age 3. Two months later, her husband died, too. Her 10-year-old son, the only family left for her, was hit with typhoid and hospitalized. Because it was wartime, he could not receive decent medical treatment. In April 1943, he died, leaving these last words: "Now that Father and Sister have died, you will be all alone if I go. But will you be waiting for me? I'm going off to war."

"It was so painful to see my children die. I thought many times that I would rather die instead. But I just couldn't, even after the atomic bombing."

* * *

In 1944 Fusako married another man. But he was always drunk , and she eventually fled from him. She was also pregnant.

On the morning of August 6, 1945, she was riding her bicycle to bring rice and sugar to a friend in Nagatsuka (present-day Asaminami Ward). As she passed by the Hiroshima Communications Hospital in Hakushima (present-day Naka Ward), a bluish light brightened the sky. It was about one kilometer [0.6 mile] from what would be ground zero. She felt a strong pain in her right cheek and jumped into a side ditch along the street.

People came out of the hospital one after another. They were all covered in blood, injured with fragments of glass stuck in their bodies. She saw an old woman with burns all over. The front of her body was torn and showing bones; her sloughed breast and intestines were exposed and dangling. Fusako found that the skin of her own right cheek was also drooping.

Toward the south where her house was located she saw a sea of fire. Clambering over crushed houses, she fled toward Oshiba (present-day Nishi Ward). Many soldiers lay dead along the riverbed.

"Help me!" She heard the cries from all over the place. She saw the faces of people trapped among the debris, but couldn't help them. Fires approached with a spluttering sound. "It was a real hell on earth. I can still hear their voices. I can never forget them, however hard I try to get them out of my mind."

She was rescued by a truck and fled to Yamamoto (present-day Asaminami Ward), where she was taken to the house of an old woman. The woman kindly let Fusako rest there for two days. Finally she reached her birth home in Shimane, where her older sister took care of her. When she pinched the scab on Fusako's right cheek, pink membrane was exposed. The wound festered and gave off an awful smell. She sanitized the burn with diluted cresol, trying to keep flies away. The burns eventually healed, but she lost hearing in her right ear forever.

* * *

After the war, she followed her friend and moved back to Nishihara (present-day Asaminami Ward). She lived in a rented cowshed together with her younger brother, who had left his birth home. In February 1946, after leaving her second husband, she gave birth to a boy, whom she named Satoshi. She became a dressmaker, riding her bicycle from house to house selling the kimonos she sewed.

In 1955, she married for the third time and moved to Minami-machi (present-day Minami Ward). Her husband's home ran a dormitory for young female workers, including bus conductors. She worked hard as a dressmaker for the young women, who wanted to go out on holidays wearing the latest fashions. Her business picked up quickly and she hired some helpers for her shop.

Ten years ago her husband died and today she lives with Satoshi.

In April this year, she tripped and injured her knee. She cannot go outside much these days and has to stay in bed most of the time. Satoshi takes care of most of the housework like washing, cleaning, and shopping. "Fortunately I have been able to live, thanks to my son. I could not have survived if left all alone." But her pain of losing two children has yet to be healed. Every day, she burns incense at the Buddhist altar and joins her hands in prayer for them.

Encouraged by the staff of Hiroshima Kyoritsu Hospital, where she used to see a doctor regularly, she tried to write the story of her life for the first time. "War should never be fought again. Everyone must live being friendly to each other" was her strong wish. Wars kill so many people. She wants to prevent the sadness she herself has experienced from being repeated in anyone's life.

When I asked if I could take a picture of her, Fusako said mischievously, "It might be my last portrait." Her words made me nervous. She kindly answered every question, never showing a frowning face to my repeated questions. In the end, she encouraged me, saying, "I want people to know what I have witnessed and the pains I have suffered. I myself don't have the means to do so, but you do. Please do your work well."

* 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), August 6, 2010.