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Ms. Yahata plans to go around to various places around the world on the Peace Boat to appeal for a non-nuclear world. Interviewed in Minami Ward, Hiroshima.
We Feel the Same Way toward Our Loved Ones
Teruko Yahata (female, 75 years old)
By Taro Nakazaki (male)
Ms. Yahata entered National Elementary School one year before the A-bomb was dropped, which killed most of her classmates. (Bottom row, third from left) (Photo courtesy of Teruko Yahata)
There is a Japanese NGO called Peace Boat, which organizes voyages around the world, giving passengers the opportunity to meet people in various places to exchange ideas and culture. As the name implies, the primary mission is to promote international peace and good will. Seventy-five-year-old Ms. Teruko Yahata, who now lives in Fuchu-cho, is one of the A-bomb survivors planning to go on board in July to appeal for world peace at each port of call. I was impressed with what she said in the briefing session in May about her A-bomb experiences as a child of 8. I contacted her soon after, and she kindly agreed to share more of the details.
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Ms. Yahata remembers one December morning when she was 4 years old. Her father, Ryuzo Kato, murmured in a gloomy voice, "What an awful thing this is!" She recounted, "Though I was a little girl, I could tell something extraordinarily terrible had just happened." She knew later that with the bombing of Pearl Harbor the Pacific War had broken out that day.
Two years later, her father, who worked for a confectionery company, was transferred to Tianjin, China, in order to increase its production capacity. The rest of the family took the occasion to leave Kobe for Hiroshima, a seemingly safer city. Teruko, along with her mother Mineko, elder sister and two younger brothers moved to Koi-cho (present-day Nishi Ward) to live with her paternal grandmother.
The radio often blared out the latest news like this: "This is an announcement from the Imperial Headquarters. We have shot down dozens of enemy bombers without any serious damage on our side." At her National Elementary School, children in upper grades marched on the school grounds after morning meetings, chanting in unison, "We are ready to kill hundreds of enemies, even thousands, at the cost of ourselves." Ms. Yahata remarked, "We were living through really horrific times, but we came to believe our situation was quite normal."
* * *
In late July 1945, her father, thanks to a business trip to Tokyo, was able to visit Hiroshima. He was supposed to leave for the Port of Moji and board a ship bound for Tianjin on August 3. However, he couldn't make it so stayed longer with his family because the ship he was going to take had been attacked and disabled on its previous voyage.
The happy family reunion was unexpectedly prolonged. On August 5, a Sunday, they went by train to Jigozen for a swim in the ocean. They enjoyed the family holiday until late afternoon unmindful of the time.
The following day the whole family had breakfast later than usual, chatting about the happy time they had spent on the beach the previous day. After eating, they turned on the radio. Because of the heavy static, however, they couldn't tell whether the air raid warning, issued early in the morning, was still in effect. To visit "Tetchan of the Hirais," who lived next door, and ask for this information, Teruko was just about to put on her geta (wooden clogs) to get down into the backyard.
"It was at that moment that the whole sky flashed white like a huge fluorescent light," she said. She threw herself face down on the ground, covering her eyes, nose and ears with her hands.
Teruko heard her mother shouting, "Come here, everyone!" On opening her eyes, all she could see was a thick cloud of dust. She found herself lying in the entrance of her house, blown back from the backyard. "I could already tell what a mess the house was in! Shards of glass were closely embedded in sliding doors like arrows," she recalled.
Though she was suffering from a splitting headache and fuzzy consciousness, Teruko managed to make her way toward her mother's voice. She found her mother standing with the back of her white blouse stained red with blood. Her mother said, "Stay here. If we have to die, let's face it together." She unfolded the futons and wrapped the family members inside them. They all thought there soon would be a second or third bomb falling on them too. Ms. Yahata recollected, "Strangely enough, I wasn't scared even in the face of death, because I was with my whole family."
* * *
Fortunately, her family all survived, recovering from the diarrhea and high fever that tormented them for some time.
After graduating from high school, Teruko left Hiroshima to live in Fukuoka and Osaka. She married a man by arrangement and came back to Hiroshima. While bringing up their two daughters, she was an office worker at a glass maker. Her husband had also been exposed to the A-bomb in the area now called Minami Ward. They both have told their daughters about their A-bomb experiences.
Five years ago she was struck by acute cardiac infarction. She said, "I'm afraid it must have been one of the aftereffects of the A-bomb. I will have to live with this uneasiness for the rest of my life." She had planned to join the Peace Boat that year, but gave up on it because the doctor said, "I am certain that if you had an attack of this kind on board, you might die." With her health now improved, she is preparing for the voyage in July, taking all possible measures.
She recounted, "My brother, who is two years younger than me, hardly remembers anything about the A-bomb memories, such as piles of bodies, the smell of cremation, countless wounded and dying people with their bodies wrapped in bandages, and all that. I belong to the last generation that can describe what we experienced first-hand."
Quite a few young children were among the bodies that were thrown into the cremation fire on her school grounds. She sees the image in her own children and grandchildren. "I truly think those children must have really wanted to go on living. I believe that we feel the same way all over the world in wishing to protect our family."
* 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 12, 2013.