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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

So tell me... about Hiroshima
The Time the Sky Caught Fire
Yuzo Hayashi (male, 73 years old)
Naka Ward, Hiroshima
By Takaoki Yamamoto (male)

photo Dr. Yuzo Hayashi, as director of a nursing care facility for the elderly in Hiroshima

photo Dr. Yuzo Hayashi (right) at five years old

Dr. Yuzo Hayashi is currently the director of Hidamari, an elderly nursing care facility located in Naka Ward, Hiroshima. He is a survivor of the atomic bomb who was exposed to radiation as a five-year-old boy when he entered the city after the bomb was dropped. "There was no harm to my body," he says, explaining why he hasn't spoken of his experience thus far. Through his current work, however, he still keenly feels the lasting scars left behind by the atomic bomb.

The Hidamari facility is located next door to Takanobashi Central Hospital (Kokutaiji 2-chome, Naka Ward), where his elder brother is the director. In 1936, their father Tetsuo, an ear, nose and throat doctor, opened a medical clinic in the area, so Yuzo Hayashi spent his early years there.

In 1944, Dr. Hayashi was attending kindergarten nearby the clinic. That summer the buzzing sound of warning sirens was heard frequently. Four or five minutes after they sounded, if U.S. planes were detected, the alerts would begin to alternate back and forth between louder and softer volumes to indicate an air raid.

When the warnings sounded at the kindergarten, the children would assemble in an air raid shelter underneath the floor, but Yuzo was told to run home to his house, which was only five minutes away. On his way home the siren would often change to an air raid alert. Moments later he would hear the roar of the planes growing louder and louder, which terrified and unnerved him. He was always in tears as he ran home alone through the deserted streets of the town.

As the new year began B-29s were seen more frequently. Unlike planes that flew at low altitudes, the B-29s usually flew at about 10,000 meters [32,800 feet/6.2 miles] or higher so as not to get hit by anti-aircraft guns, not in formation but alone, with an air of perfect composure. Their glittering bodies were beautiful and were trailed by a single line of mist.

Ten days before the atomic bomb was dropped, Yuzo's father, then an army surgeon, told his family that Hiroshima was becoming unsafe and relocated the family of six to the home of an acquaintance living in the western district of Hiroshima (present-day Furue-machi in Nishi Ward).

On the morning of August 6, as Yuzo and his elder brother, wearing nothing but underpants, were catching cicadas at the nearby elementary school, there was suddenly a strong flash of bluish-white light before their eyes. In the next instant the sky was consumed by flames as though all at once it contained hundreds of suns. Although they were 4.1 kilometers [2.5 miles] away from the hypocenter, the shock of the light and flames was such that he recalls nothing that happened thereafter.

Takanobashi Central Hospital was about one kilometer [0.6 mile] away from the hypocenter. All of the Hayashi family were safe because they had evacuated from that area. His father usually attended the clinic daily, but on that particular day he happened to be making a house call on a patient who lived in Hatsukaichi City outside of Hiroshima, so he was safe.

About two weeks after the bomb was dropped they went to his mother's parents' house in Takanobashi and found the burned-out site still scalding hot. The area appeared flattened but actually was buried under debris about one meter [3.3 feet] deep. Looking in the direction of the Hiroshima railway station they had a clear view of a train running on the rails there.

* * *

Following in the footsteps of their father, both Yuzo and his brother became doctors. After graduating from medical school at Hiroshima University, Dr. Hayashi worked as an associate professor there before becoming an assistant director at a hospital in Asakita Ward, Hiroshima. After retiring, he became a director of the Hidamari facility.

Before turning sixty he applied for certification as a survivor suffering from radiation-related illnesses, but his petition was not approved. In 2009, continuously ailing from colon and stomach cancers, he underwent seven surgeries. It was not clear whether or not his cancers were the result of the A-bomb. He says, "My family all made it safely through that time. I was one of the lucky ones."

Most of those admitted to the Hidamari facility are over 65 years old. Many were exposed to the atomic bomb.

One man there suffers from Parkinson's Disease and has lost most of his ability to speak. His wife visits daily and takes devoted care of him. She tells Dr. Hayashi that she was exposed to the A-bomb when she was young. At that time A-bomb survivors could not even consider the possibility of getting married. Her husband had married her nonetheless, and they had spent a happy life together. She came every day now to spend whatever time she could with her beloved husband.

One woman was exposed to the bomb and later lost her husband. She was blessed with two daughters, but one became ill with radiation sickness due to prenatal exposure. Dr. Hayashi comments, "There is no end to the number of these stories I hear. Even with all the time that has passed, the lasting scars of the A-bomb are still evident. I believe it's not enough to simply be opposed to war. What matters most is to first realize the cruelty of nuclear weapons and of war itself."

* 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 4, 2013.