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Even today at age 83, Mr. Naoya Sakata continues working for the local community by producing rhubarb and other edibles. (Hadeniwa, Miwa-cho, Miyoshi)
Moving On After Living Through Hell
Naoya Sakata (male, 83 years old)
Miyoshi City, Hiroshima Prefecture
By Takaoki Yamamoto (male)
Mr. Naoya Sakata in a picture taken in July 1945 before exposure to the A-bomb. (Photo courtesy of Naoya Sakata)
I had heard that there was an A-bomb victim who strives day and night as chairman of an NPO working to revitalize the local community: Mr. Naoya Sakata (83) in Miwa-cho, Miyoshi. When I visited him to hear his story, I was overwhelmed by how active he was.
* * *
In 1945, Mr. Sakata was fifteen years old, in his third year at the former Shudo Junior High School (present-day Shudo High School). He had left his parents' place in what is today Miwa-cho, Miyoshi, and was working at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Hiroshima Shipyard Eba Plant (present-day Naka Ward, Hiroshima), where he was sent as part of the student mobilization. He was in charge of the final process for the interiors of transport ships.
Since the previous year, the workshop next to his had been manufacturing small-scale submarines. The submarines that were to be shipped to the naval arsenal in nearby Kure became more simplified in style as the days passed. The iron wall that was used to divide the torpedo room from the pilothouse was changed to plywood, and the launching tube disappeared. "We were not told the details, but we knew instantly: They were going to be human torpedoes."
On the morning of August 6, Mr. Sakata was taking a break with his friends after they prepared to start their work; at that moment, something sparkled in the northeastern sky. Their entire view was covered in white. A few seconds later, a strong blast came from the city area, blowing off everything except for the steel frame of the factory. They were three kilometers [1.9 miles] from the hypocenter.
He doesn't remember how much time had passed. When he opened his eyes, the roof was gone, and he could see a reddish-black sky covered with fire and smoke. There were pieces of the glass windows piercing his stomach and arms.
He rushed to the factory's infirmary and saw his coworkers on the floor groaning. It appeared that people who had been at the office were more severely hurt. The skin of their arms was scraped off, showing their flesh. Many people died. "It was like hell…" Mr. Sakata said.
* * *
The next day, he went to the center of town, where he could see the entire city. In a park by the Sumiyoshi Bridge (present-day Naka Ward) were naked people with their entire bodies burned, moaning for water. There was a tent with many injured people lying within.
There were people with their skin drooping, begging for water from soldiers who were on relief duty. "Don't let them drink. They will die instantly," shouted another soldier.
Black bodies kept floating down the river. Men lying face down, women facing up… Soldiers picked up the bodies with ease. "I was speechless. But they had survived the war, so that was why they could stay calm in such a horrible situation."
His school was closed, so Mr. Sakata returned home. His entire body felt exhausted, and he lost his appetite. A doctor told him that those could be early symptoms of tuberculosis. He caught eel in a river in front of his house in an attempt to gain strength, but he didn't feel any better. When he brushed his hair upward, he lost a bunch of hair from the front to the back of his head. An acquaintance who was a doctor recommended that he drink "for detoxification," so he drank homebrewed sake every day.
He gave up on proceeding to the next stage of his education, and went on to plow the fields back home instead. He built terraced rice fields and worked the wasteland. "I did everything I could. I was just struggling to survive."
Mr. Sakata got married when he was 24 years old. Although his wife's father was concerned about his exposure to the A-bomb, the couple went on to have two children. However, about ten years later, he began to suffer from illness after illness. In 1991, he developed prostate cancer and went to numerous university hospitals and local hospitals. He recovered, but he continues to get tested.
* * *
"Nothing can be worse than that war. So I can think positively about everything."
Currently, in his attempt to create new industry in Miwa-cho, he produces rhubarb, an herbaceous plant originating in Russia. He is working to make rhubarb a special product of Miwa-cho. Thinking it might help establish friendly relations between Miwa-cho and Russia, he sent processed rhubarb goods along with a letter to the Russian president to a Diet member who was visiting Russia. Even though the goods and the letter did not reach the president, everybody was surprised by his ability to take such action.
"People today think things are impossible from the very beginning. Nothing is impossible from the very beginning, because we are alive."
* 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), May 22, 2013.