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Keloids remain on her back to this day.
Shared Gifts, Roughly Discarded
Chiyono Yoneda(female, born 1926)
By Sei Ito (male, born 1971)
The reporter interviewed an elderly lady, Ms. Chiyono Yoneda (81) of Yokohama, a Nagasaki A-bomb survivor, along with some third-year students at a Tokyo junior high school.
Ms. Yoneda shared a number of her experiences such as serious burn injuries that still remain on her back, a suicide attempt, and relatives dying one by one in front of her. In the middle of her long story, she touched upon a matter that occurred soon after she relocated to Tokyo when her husband's job moved there.
One day toward the end of December 1958, Ms. Yoneda received a shipment of lotus roots, a specialty of her husband's hometown. She went on to share them with nearby neighbors without delay to be prepared as a special food on New Year's Day. They all thanked her for such a timely and valuable gift.
The next morning, when she came down to the nearby garbage dump, Ms. Yoneda found that all of the lotus roots she had given out had been thrown away. A neighborhood boy then happened to come to her house saying, "You got them too, right? You better not eat them, or you'll be infected with the A-bomb disease. You'll die." She was completely surprised to hear that, since she had never mentioned that she was an A-bomb survivor. The best she could tell him was, "Those lotus roots have nothing to do with the A-bomb, and you won't catch the A-bomb disease from them, either."
Ever since, she has never again shared Nagasaki specialty items like oranges or fish sausage with her neighbors.
* * *
Ms. Yoneda had an A-bomb hit her at age 18 after her graduation from Josei Girls' High School to attend a dressmaking school in Nagasaki.
On the morning of August 9, 1945, she didn't go to the dressmaking school since both an air raid alert and warning were in effect; instead, she climbed a hill just behind her house with her younger sister, Haruyo, and younger brother, Shoji. They arrived at a nearby farming field, where Ms. Yoneda met an old classmate from her elementary school days who had come with her mother, and they sat together on a furrow chatting. It was about 11 a.m., and only one kilometer [0.6 mile] away from the hypocenter.
Ms. Yoneda had no clear memory of the very moment the A-bomb hit, no feeling at all of light or of sound. She found herself flat out in a field more than ten meters [32.8 feet] away from where she had been sitting. She was awakened by a loudly repeated Buddhist sutra: "namu amida butsu." Immediately afterward, she heard a sound like a balloon popping, and her friend shouted, "Don't move, or you'll be shot by enemy aircraft." After sitting quietly there for a while, she saw an endless number of tiny fireballs like a lit sparkler, raining down with a sha-sha-sha sound.
Ms. Yoneda's sister and brother came out of the bushes behind, crying. Her sister told her, "Sister, your hand is bleeding." Indeed, her right wrist had been injured and the bone was sticking out. But, she says, "I felt neither pain nor itching then."
The friend standing just behind her spoke up as well. "Your clothing is completely gone. Your back is burned black." When Ms. Yoneda touched her back with her unwounded left hand, burned skin peeled off and stuck to it.
On that day, she had been wearing a thinner blouse she had received in the previous day's rations; pleased with her new clothing, she had worn it for her journey up the hill. Ms. Yoneda showed the reporter her back with its keloid scars, saying, "I still have a trace of two chemise straps on my shoulders. It's not so bad now, but shortly after the war, whenever I saw my back skin purple and swollen, I always felt faint."
The woods in the nearby hills started to burn, forcing them to hide in a nearby ditch. In the distance, Ms. Yoneda could see many people sitting in a field, but could not clearly tell whether they were crying or shouting something.
After dark, Ms. Yoneda returned home with her brother and sister. The house had totally collapsed, so the three children evacuated to a nearby air raid shelter with their father and visiting relatives.
That night, one relative's family, a mother and three children, came running from their own house. The mother, suffering burns over her entire body, told Ms. Yoneda, "I was pulling weeds in a rice paddy when the water started to boil." Her three sons were badly injured, crying out "Water. Give me water." Although their mother pleaded for somebody, anybody to give them water, Ms. Yoneda's father shouted, "If you give them water, they'll die. Don't do it!"
The next day, all three boys died. Because it was very difficult to carry them due to the strips of burned skin hanging off each body, they were wrapped up in rags to be carried away. Ms. Yoneda recalled, "They looked just like blown-up black plastic balloons with hands and feet attached."
The three dead were laid side-by-side in order by height, hands clasped, with the wish that they would spend a good life in heaven. Ms. Yoneda's father dampened their lips with a wet cloth, murmuring, "Forgive me. I didn't want to kill any of you. Now I'll let you drink as much water as you want." It was the very first time I ever saw my father crying.
* * *
The day after her exposure to the A-bomb, Ms. Yoneda's right hand swelled up, giving her very severe pain when she touched it. Her burned back started to hurt, and her face puffed up as well. When she scratched her scalp, hair fell out in clumps, until there was none left.
Some years later, Ms. Yoneda heard from her sister that, at the time, their parents had prayed that she would live for even one day longer. If she had died, they would have sent her off with the posthumous Buddhist name Chiyono Jizo.
About five days later, Ms. Yoneda's cousins took turns carrying her on their backs to the Nagasaki Medical College Hospital (present-day Nagasaki University Hospital). Immediately after the doctor saw her right hand, he said, "I have to amputate it at the wrist, or she will die." Her father, who had accompanied her, pleaded with the doctor, "She's just a girl-please let her have her fingers." The doctor replied, "Right now, we can get by with amputating the hand at the wrist, but if things go wrong, she'll lose her whole arm at the shoulder." Her father persisted, kneeling down and bowing deeply, and in the end, she was left with her whole right arm intact.
One of Ms. Yoneda's cousins, a medical student, visited her every morning to disinfect her wounds. After a month, another medical student and friend visited her to say the cousin had suddenly fallen ill after fully exerting himself caring for A-bomb victims. He left his friend with the request "Take care of Chiyono" just before passing away at age 22.
About a month after the A-bomb fell, Ms. Yoneda took off the wooden splint that had been setting her right wrist. The bone there was considerably raised, and she couldn't stretch her arm out straight.
"Look what my body has become," she thought. "How can I ever get married and spend a happy life with anyone now?" Having drawn this grim picture of her own future, Ms. Yoneda walked up to the railroad by herself after she guessed her parents were deeply asleep. She lay down, resting her head on the rail, but the tremendous vibration and sound frightened her into running away. A few days later, she tried again to kill herself, but was not successful. A few more days later, she tried yet again, this time face-down with her stomach lying across the rails.
A train approached, and with it, her death. Just then, Ms. Yoneda's body was pulled up and away from the rail. It was her father, who put his arms around her. Seconds later, a train passed by right before her eyes. Her father slapped her cheeks and held her tight. "Think of your elder sisters who died in the A-bomb in spite of wanting to live longer. You must live long and healthy for them."
Ms. Yoneda recalled, "All I could think of at the time was dying. My father saved me."
* * *