JAPANESE

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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

Notes from Nagasaki
Longing to Wear High Heels
Etsuko Obata(female, born 1928)
By Gen Okada (male, born 1978)

photo Etsuko Obata photo Both of her legs were injured in the atomic bombing.

Ms. Etsuko Obata, age 79, of Jouei-machi in Nagasaki, was sitting in a wheelchair. As she lifted her long skirt, it was possible to see that her right leg had been deformed into the shape of a chevron, with the muscle of the thigh hollowed out and the skin tautened. Her many surgeries had left a large scar from knee to thigh on her left leg. "I can't wear slacks, because everyone would be shocked by the shape of this leg," she said, smiling, though I was left speechless.

In 2003, she had been a member of the first group of plaintiffs in a lawsuit calling for the recognition of atomic bomb disease. I was visiting her home in order to cover her story just prior to the Nagasaki District Court ruling on June 17, 2008.

I listened to her describe her experience with the atom bomb-the cause of her leg injuries-for about three hours. Hesitantly I asked if it would be possible to photograph her legs. Ms. Obata said, "These legs are a product of the atomic bomb. I can only tell my story through them." A sudden rain turned the room gloomy. I snapped many pictures, deeply weighing the significance of the words, "Please tell me your story."

The year 1941 was just the beginning of the Pacific War. Ms. Obata was 12 years old, and her home was in Nagasaki, in Katafuchi-machi 3-chome (present-day Katafuchi). When no one else was at home, she would look in the shoe cabinet at the entrance of the house. Inside were the pairs of high-heeled shoes belonging to her two older sisters. One of the pairs had a chic design with a big black bow. She slipped her small feet in the pair, saying, "Someday I'll wear shoes like these."

Although the situation at the front worsened and even finding enough to eat was growing difficult, everywhere in the city such slogans as "Luxury is the enemy" and "We shall want for nothing until we win the war" could be seen. Ms. Obata's childhood dream of wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes slipped further away. However, she always continued to nurture her wish that someday, "after the war, when the city is restored, I will walk around in high heels."

"When I was a child and my mother scolded me, I would purposely stamp my feet going up the stairs. I used to jump rope with a rubber jump rope and take the bus to go swimming on the outskirts of Aba and Nezumijima. These things are nothing but memories now."

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In the summer of 1945, Ms. Obata was a 16-year-old working at the Mitsubishi Arms Factory Morimachi Plant as a Women's Service Corps volunteer. Her daily routine was to smooth down the uneven areas of torpedoes with a large grinder.

"On August 9, I heard the continuous echo of the air raid warning siren. I ran to the air raid shelter that was a couple hundred meters [about 650 feet] from the factory. When the air raid warning was cancelled without incident, I complained, 'It's so hot' and 'I have to go so far.' I ran up the staircase to the factory's second-floor workshop. My feet made a tapping sound as I went; that was the last time I ever ran. It happened the moment I reached my workstation. Red, yellow, purple. . . there was an indescribable flash of light. I covered my eyes and ears as I ducked. The factory shook a lot.

"When I regained consciousness, both of my legs were trapped under a worktable and I was hanging upside down from the broken floor. 'Please help me,' I said to two men who were beneath my head. As they pulled me down, the muscle was ripped out of my right leg. I didn't feel any pain. I was carried out on my back, unable even to utter the words, 'Why me?' It was 1.2 kilometers [0.7 mile] from the hypocenter."

After being rescued, Ms. Obata was put on a truck heading for Nagasaki Medical College (present-day Nagasaki University School of Medicine) in Nagasaki's Sakamoto-machi (present-day Sakamoto 1-chome). However, the truck only managed to get about 100 meters [330 feet] before it encountered a fire blocking the way.

"From the back of the truck the sun glowed a deep red. The rays of the sun beating down on the truck bed grew unbearable. Not knowing where I was, I got down and landed on the ground, directly on my bleeding leg. Ugh. . . I felt a sinking sensation, like I had stepped into a patch of mud. Actually it was my fractured bone breaking through the flesh.

"In any case, I was thirsty. Someone with a kettle was distributing water. The water I got was salt water, but I didn't care. I avoided the sunlight by laying in the shadow of the truck on a futon that someone had brought.

"That evening, looking out over my leg, I saw sparks being scattered from a utility pole that was on fire. I was surrounded by the sounds of groaning coming from the critically injured and the voices of people who were searching for their families. I could not sleep because of the pain, and I thought I was going to die. I just wanted to go home and see my mother."

At daybreak Ms. Obata was still lying in the same spot. The photo taken by a reporter still exists today. It was later found out that this spot was one kilometer [0.6 mile] away from the hypocenter.

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