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Mr. Tetsushi Yonezawa says, "I can pass down the tragedy of war to my children and grandchildren. I was right about publishing this book. Now I truly think so." (in Kyoto)
Nuclear power and humankind cannot coexist
Tetsushi Yonezawa (male, 79 years old)
Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture
By Kazuki Kimura (male)
Mr. Tetsushi Yonezawa (79), living in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture, published a book in July 2013 about his A-bomb experience when he was a boy. The book is titled "I was exposed to the A-bomb on a jam-packed streetcar" and subtitled "Hiroshima in which an 11-year-old boy survived" (published by Shogakukan). In the past, he had been encouraged to publish a book but was reluctant, saying "no" because he was afraid of passing down a false history if his memory was incorrect. But the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station disaster in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami made him shed his reluctance.
"Something flashed somewhere with a strong blinding light. Spontaneously, I closed my eyes. Then, I heard a tremendous sound that was the most terrible sound I have ever heard. It was like a hundred thunderclaps crashing all at once just a short distance away."
On August 6, 1945, Mr. Yonezawa, in the fifth grade of elementary school, came to Hiroshima's downtown area with his mother from his place of refuge, Ichikawa-mura (present-day Shiraki-cho, Asakita Ward), to pick up personal belongings from his grandparent's house. They were on a jam-packed streetcar. As the streetcar approached the front of the Fukuya department store at the center of downtown, the A-bomb exploded. They were then about 750 meters (0.5 mile) from the hypocenter. It is said that the bomb blast that hit them had a wind velocity of some 220 meters (720 feet) per second. The windows of the streetcar all broke at once and the streetcar filled with screams.
Because the streetcar was made of steel and was full of passengers, Mr. Yonezawa and his mother avoided being seriously injured. He would never forget the hellish sight of Hiroshima that he saw with his mother while wandering through the city after the bomb hit.
* * *
He saw a woman with large pieces of broken glass piercing into her back; he saw many people crushed under buildings, bodies that had fallen on top of one another in a fire prevention water tank, and many girl students suffering from burns.
"A crowd of people entered the river to escape from the heat and to drink water, among them a lot of pupils, who looked only two or three years younger or older than I. Many of them died there. In time, I became too tired to think about what was happening and just stared absent-mindedly."
He recalled, "Moans and an indescribable and unspeakable odor surrounded me. It was a horrendous sight. There is just no other way to put it." His mother, then 34, died on September 1 that year. Her body turned purple and her gums were bleeding. She was suffering a lot of pain and kept saying, "Kill me now, please!"
His youngest sibling, his barely-one-year-old sister, died on October 19. Her death followed shortly after his mother's. Mr. Yonezawa guesses that, in addition to malnutrition, his mother's radiation-contaminated milk caused his sister's death.
* * *
Some years later, he entered a university in Kyoto and got a job after graduation. In 1954, the crew members of the boat Daigo Fukury? Maru (Lucky Dragon 5) were exposed to fallout from the test explosion of a U.S. hydrogen bomb detonated at Bikini Atoll. This tragedy inspired him to speak about his A-bomb experience at schools.
The Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011 had a huge impact on Mr. Yonezawa. The publication of his book came to mind when he thought about the people of Fukushima who were driven from their homes. "The fact remains that both the A-bomb and the nuclear power plant use a nuclear reaction to release energy. I would like to accurately pass down to the next generation along with the horrors of war that nuclear power and humankind cannot co-exist."
* * *
In 2012, while staging a sit-in protest together with fellow members of a group in front of the Kyoto branch office of Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc., in opposition to the resumption of nuclear power plant operations, he met a person who made him realize the importance of passing down his A-bomb experience by telling and writing his story. A woman about twenty years old spoke to him. She took part in the protest and through a handheld microphone expressed her opinion to oppose starting up the nuclear power plants. She told him that when she was in elementary school she had met him and listened to his A-bomb experience. "Your story back then still remains in my memory. That's why I am against nuclear power plants."
Sometimes, he becomes filled with frustration regarding the public's disinterest. When he talks about opposing the nuclear power plants on the street, there are some people who pass by actually covering their ears. Even so, he thinks, "I have no other alternative than to keep going."
"I feel that the situation in Japan has gotten worse. I am determined to pass down the tragedy of war to the next generation as accurately as possible until I die. I hope as many people as possible will think about nuclear power and nuclear war. As an A-bomb survivor, I have a duty to keep making the horror of the A-bomb known."
Every year, including this year, on August 6, he visits Hiroshima.
* 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), July 9, 2014.