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Taiji Manda (left) conversing with Aiko Kobo about his father and the past at Senda-machi 1-chome, Naka Ward in Hiroshima.
Reunion and tracing memories of my father
Taiji Manda (male, 77 years old)
Oita City, Oita Prefecture
By Haruka Suzuki (female)
A photograph of him when he was 3 years old, found at a relative's house. (Photo courtesy of Taiji Manda)
Taiji Manda (77), of Oita City, lost five of his family members in the A-bombing-his father, mother, sister, and two brothers. Last year, he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony for the first time as the Oita Prefecture representative for bereaved family members of those who perished in the A-bombing. I interviewed him because I was attracted by his buoyant and cheerfully optimistic character, unimaginable for someone whose life had been turned upside-down because of the A-bomb.
* * *
That day, nine-year-old Taiji left his house in Senda-machi, Naka Ward, Hiroshima with his two- and five-year-old brothers to go on an errand. As they ran to catch up with their sister, who had left the house before them, they were suddenly blown away by a powerful blast of hot air. "It happened without warning. I didn't know what it was." From then on his memory is fragmented.
He wasn't sure how much time passed, but after some time, he came to his senses and was able to save one brother, who had been blown away, and the other brother too, who was buried under a pillar. He himself escaped with only a burn on his head, but his brothers were seriously injured.
While fleeing toward the sea away from the blazing fire, he found his sister groaning with the skin on her back peeled and hanging down.
Piggybacking his younger brother, he took his other brother's hand and had his sister hold on to his shirt. While walking, he lost his shoes, so barefoot, he kept walking on the asphalt that had melted from the heat. "My senses went numb and I couldn't feel anything. I even didn't have any time to think."
They reached the estuary and took shelter on a boat, but his sister died the next day and his two brothers expired few days later. "I must have been in total shock. It was only several days later that I thought of my parents." Not knowing how or where his parents had lost their lives, he was taken care of by his aunt.
* * *
After the war, Taiji worked part-time as a newspaper boy, in a bakery, at a rice cracker shop, and other places to pay for his education and textbooks. He recollects, "I maintained my self-respect but often cried outside the house during the night."
Health-wise, he suffered from chronic fatigue. Every day at 10 a.m., he would be overcome with fatigue, as if his body was melting. At school, he would hide and rest in the toilet. Even as an adult, he would find excuses to take breaks at a coffee shop.
By the time he turned 73, he had had over 20 jobs. He worked at a record labeling company, denim jeans shop, worked at a trading firm, financial institutions, hotels, and more. Everywhere he went, he worked with zeal, as if it each job was his life's vocation.
He married at 28 but his wife passed away when she was 59. They had two children but no grandchildren. His granddaughter died of childhood cancer at age two. "Having no one to continue the family lineage is very sad." Although he spoke calmly, this was the only time he showed a troubled expression.
* * *
At the beginning of February 2014, Taiji visited the place in Hiroshima where his home was at the time of the A-bombing, to meet Ms. Aiko Kobo (88), the only resident still living there. In August 2013, they had met for the first time in 68 years. He came back now because he wanted to hear more about his father.
"Your father was a writer of some sort. He often expressed his opinions at the community meetings," Ms. Kobo said. Taiji was surprised since he couldn't remember his father's occupation. "That's right!," he said, "I remember people calling him 'sensei'. He would be at home during the day, sitting in front of his desk, smoking cigarettes. One area on the ceiling had turned black from all the years of smoke, too." His memory gradually started coming back.
Reminiscing, he happily spoke with Ms. Kobo for about two hours at a nearby coffee shop.
The actual location of his old house is unknown because of street replanning carried out by the city. The surrounding area had changed completely. "It doesn't bring back many memories but I was happy to talk about my father. Now I really want to see my father again."
He never spoke about his grudge or bitterness toward the A-bomb. But at the Peace Memorial Ceremony last year, he was overwhelmed with sadness and was about to cry. "Peace is a world heritage that all humankind must protect." The ceremony reinforced this thought within him.
Every day Taiji needs to take 23 different medications to counteract the eight ailments he has, including cancer. "Much happened in my life but I lived through it all and did my best. I believe that life is wonderful. I really want to live until I am 100 without forgetting my dreams and excitement," he said with a mischievous smile.
* 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), March 5, 2014.