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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

So tell me... about Hiroshima
Surviving with the "Bond of Water"
Masako Iseki (female, 81 years old), Yoshino Inoue (female, 106 years old)
Saeki Ward, Hiroshima
By Gen Okamoto (male)

photo Mutually providing each other years of support, Yoshino Inoue (right) and her eldest daughter Masako Iseki, living in Saeki Ward, Hiroshima

photo Yoshino Inoue (taken in 1928)

photo Masako Iseki (right) and her second eldest brother, in front of a laundry store at their barracks ( taken in 1946) (Photo courtesy of Masako Iseki)

Sixty-nine years ago, Hiroshima was full of people who wandered around searching for water. A number of people died, but there are also some A-bomb survivors who were saved "thanks to the water." Ms. Masako Iseki, 81-year-old housewife living in Saeki Ward, Hiroshima, is one of those survivors. When I interviewed Masako at her house, her 106-year-old mother Ms. Yoshino Inoue also told her experience as a survivor of the exposure who entered the city after the A-bomb. They talked about what they underwent in Hiroshima at that time.

* * *

Masako is the eldest daughter and was then in her first year at Hiroshima Women's Commercial School (present-day Hiroshima Shoyo High School) after finishing Otemachi National Elementary School, which was in the area now called Naka Ward. Food was scarce in those days. Students were forced to gather the droppings of war horses for composting and cultivating the schoolyard to grow pumpkins. Masako remembers, "At that time I was convinced that Japan would certainly win with the power of kamikaze, the divine wind."

On the morning of August 6, 1945, after eating soybean lees for breakfast, Masako went with the student mobilization group to the base of the Tsurumi Bridge, 1.5 kilometers [0.9 mile] away from the hypocenter, to remove debris produced by demolition of the buildings. She was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, a pair of work pants and wooden clogs. An air raid hood rested on her shoulders. Just as she squatted down to pick up a piece of broken tile, Masako saw the flash but fainted before hearing the booming sound of "Pika-Don!!" [a colloquial onomatopoeic term for the brilliant "flash", Pika, & loud "boom," Don, that people experienced in the explosion].

When Masako came to her senses, everything around her was dark. Swollen dark faces, disheveled hair, and ragged clothes caught her eye. She followed a line of people fleeing from the inferno, and they all dived into a tank with water stored for fire prevention. Since her body was burning hot, Masako also jumped into it frantically. The mosses in it were slimy, and it felt disgusting in the water.

Although the tank was crowded like a public bath, it somehow cooled down the heat of Masako's body. However, seeing flames approaching from behind and flare up, they started running away. A lot of people plunged into the river at high tide from the bridge or the bank and were swallowed into the water. "If I had not dived into the tank, I surely would have jumped into the river, unable to bear the severe heat." She shuddered at the thought of it.

Near Danbara (present-day Minami Ward, Hiroshima City), Masako came across one of her former classmates at Otemachi National Elementary School. She saw her carrying a water bottle and asked her automatically, "Hey, give me some water!" The girl handed it to Masako without hesitation and Masako gulped the water down. Thanks to that, she regained her energy and managed to make her way to Niho National Elementary School (in present-day Minami Ward, Hiroshima City), which had become a temporary shelter for the injured. For Masako, the water she received was truly "life saving water."

* * *

At the time the atomic bomb was dropped, Masako's mother Yoshino was visiting Yoshida-cho (present-day Akitakata City) where her younger daughter had been evacuated with other schoolchildren. Yoshino recounts, "For a moment, I saw a mushroom cloud spreading across the sky above Hiroshima. It was like an umbrella painted in a mix of blue, purple, yellow and green." She continues, "I thought, 'What if Hiroshima catches on fire?' Then I hurried home and turned on the radio immediately. But I could hear nothing except some buzzing noise."

Just as she was entering the devastated city area of Hiroshima, Yoshino was exposed to the A-bomb. She found Masako at the Niho National Elementary School on August 9 and carried her to Mukaihara-cho (present-day Akitakata City) on a two-wheeled cart. Masako was severely burned on the right side of her body. Her skin peeled off and was hanging, and her scabs became infested with maggots. Yoshino says, "When I saw the terrible wounds on her body, I felt like I had suddenly just dropped into hell."

After being in critical condition several times, Masako finally escaped death by receiving tender care. Around 1955, she attended her elementary school class reunion and met again the classmate who gave her water right after the A-bombing.

The classmate found Masako and cried with joy, "Wow, you're alive! I always worried that I must have caused you to die." In Hiroshima, just after the A-bomb was dropped, a rumor went around that the injured persons would die if they drank any water. She told Masako that she had been regretting giving her water ever since that day. Masako answered, "Oh, thank you so much for giving me the water. You actually saved my life." They praised each other for surviving and tightened the "bond of water."

* * *

Masako and her mother Yoshino have been living together for nearly half a century. Yoshino has lived through the four eras of Meiji, Taisho, Showa and now Heisei. She says, "I am happy now. There is also enough food." Masako has been nursing Yoshino at home. "Thanks to my mother, I've been able to live to this day. I have been caring for her to repay her for that."

* 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 30, 2014.