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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

So tell me... about Hiroshima
All along the riverside, people lay on the verge of death
Kazumi Kato (male, 83 years old)
Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo
By Kenji Shimizu (male))

photo Mr. Kazumi Kato in front of the 'Peace Light' at the Shinjuku Ward office. The flame for this gas lamp was created from both the "Peace Flame" in Hiroshima and the "Flame of Commitment" in Nagasaki. (Shinjuku, Tokyo).

photo Mr. Kato praying for the repose of A-bomb victims on the riverside where he slept under the night sky in 1945 (Naka Ward, Hiroshima, August 6, 2013)

photo Everything including his home burned down and no old photos remain. His disaster victim certificate on August 6 (Provided by Kazumi Kato)

Everyone has a memory of a place and time that they can't forget. For Mr. Kazumi Kato (83), who currently lives in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, his was the riverside field near his house where he slept overnight on the day he was exposed to the atomic bomb explosion. When he joined the peace memorial ceremony the year before, in 2013, he mustered the courage to visit that riverside area for the first time in 68 years. Once there, he quietly folded his hands and just prayed. In his own words, Mr. Kato recounts the images embedded in his memory. . . .

At the time, I was commuting to Hiroshima Municipal Shipbuilding Technical School and that morning was at the shipyard in Enami (present-day Naka Ward) as part of the student mobilization. That morning, everything outside suddenly flashed in bright orange, followed immediately by a horrific blast. "The bombing has started," I thought. I and my comrades hid ourselves under a work table, but there was no sign of any enemy planes. A teacher then came over and said, "Hiroshima seems to have disappeared."

At about 11 a.m., a boat was preparing to go to the center of Hiroshima so I jumped on. I got off at the Sumiyoshi Bridge (present-day Naka Ward) and walked feverishly toward my own house in Higashi-hakushima-cho. There was no sign of any persons at all, perhaps because everyone had evacuated. Until I got to Hatchobori, near the center of Hiroshima, I saw only a few corpses.

I soon arrived near my neighborhood and discovered corpses all lined up at the bus stop. There was nothing left of my house except a single gate pillar, and I couldn't find my father, who was living there with me. "I'm lost," I uttered. For the first time I felt full of despair. After a while, a neighbor called out to me, "Let's go to the riverside. Many neighbors are gathering there." I followed her as I was told, and slept there overnight.

In the dark, all around me, people lay dead or dying. "Ohhh, Ohhh!" continued the moans, as if large frogs were howling in the darkness. Even now, those strange sounds still echo in the innermost parts of my ears. I barely slept that night, and morning soon came.

After getting up, I drank some water trickling from a faucet that remained in the burned ruins, but I myself was in good shape. I helped one person near me by removing maggots that had infested the edges of their eyes, and but when I did, the skin on their face easily peeled off. I looked around again. The many corpses had swollen to their limits.

I was told by a neighbor that my father had left for the house in Minami-kanon-machi (present-day Nishi Ward), where my sister lived after getting married. Regretting that I hadn't been able to do anything for those who had died around me, I left the riverside.

That day I was able to reunite with my father and sister, but the shock I was still suffering from what I had seen and heard was overpowering. When we reunited, I don't remember whether we held each other or cried together in relief, only that we said to each other, "It's good that we are safe."

Soon the war came to an end, and frankly, I felt good. Simple things made me happy, like being able to turn on the electric light when nightfall came.

* * *

Many long, long days and years went by. I studied at a music school in Hiroshima and went to Tokyo. I also worked in the music business with an organization involved with protecting recording artists' rights.

Looking back, in the autumn of that year, the gums in my mouth would bleed, I suffered from diarrhea, and was critically ill for a week. I've continually wondered how I could have stayed alive until now. Today, I'm a representative for an association of atomic bomb survivors living in Shinjuku Ward.

After I visited that riverside last year, I thought again of my resolution that I'd like to pass on the truth of how so many people died there mortified and in agony, and to continue memorial services for them.

I formed a chorus group made up of A-bomb survivors in Tokyo. I also secretly wrote some lyrics and a melody for a song to try and recreate the events of that night.

Hiroshima, castle town, is gone
Blackened fields, hot and endless, dancing only smoke
Nighttime by the river, wrapped in starlight from afar
The dead and dying, lying together. . . . .

I still don't know when we'll have a chance to perform, but someday we'll make our voices heard, echoing our heartfelt prayers under the Tokyo sky.

* 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), January 29, 2014.