JAPANESE

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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

Notes from Nagasaki
My Little Sister Killed Herself
Sakue Shimohira(female, born 1935)
By Seiko Sadakuni (female, born 1981)

photo Sakue Shimohira photo October 1983, in Germany, calling for the elimination of atomic weapons (on the right in the back)

Sakue Shimohira (73) has been an A-bomb storyteller for thirty-five years. She speaks mainly to children, sometimes at three or four schools a day, about 200 times a year.

She continues her work while caring for her husband and fellow A-bomb survivor Takatoshi (79), who suffers from hypothyroidism and kidney disease. Sakue had also suffered from repeated fibroid operations and chronic hepatitis. Yet she has been motivated by her desire to "tell the story as long as I am alive."

She begins slowly: "What have we human beings done to each other? This present peace has been created by many victims who died. I will tell my A-bomb experience, though it is full of pain and sadness." Her voice sounds nasal and very low, without much intonation.

She was exposed to radiation at age ten while in an Aburagi-machi shelter, about 800 meters [0.5 mile] from the hypocenter. She lost her mother, big sister, and brother to the A-bomb. Ten years later, her little sister killed herself. With her feelings bottled up, she continues to speak a little faster.

Sakue's father named her after Inosuke Sakue, one of the Three Mighty Human Bombs. Inosuke Sakue (family name "Sakue") became a national hero during the Shanghai Incident of 1932, when he was reported to have charged the enemy while clutching a bomb. She felt honored when her friends pointed out that she shared her name with the hero.

In December 1941 when she was in first grade at Shiroyama Public School (present-day Nagasaki City Elementary School), the principal announced at the morning assembly, "Japan has won by attacking Pearl Harbor in the United States," to which about two thousand students responded by chanting "Banzai!" three times. Sakue and other students paraded in their town after school, waving Japanese flags: "On behalf of Heaven, our loyal and brave soldiers are cheered onward to avenge injustice…"

In the evening the adults joined the parade with lanterns. The whole town was intoxicated with the war victory. But in two years the food supply became scarce, and even the children could sense how the war situation had deteriorated.

The air raid alarm rang the morning of August 9, 1945. Sakue, who was near her home in Komaba-machi, Nagasaki (present-day Matsuyama-machi), escaped to the shelter together with her one-year-old nephew on her back and her sister Ryoko, two years younger than she. Her mother and older sister stayed home in order to put out the fire in case any planes dropped incendiaries.

A little later the warning was lifted. Those in the shelter took off their sweaty headgear and went outside. When Sakue started after them, Ryoko held her back, saying, "Our brother said..."

Their brother, a first-year student at the Nagasaki Medical University specialty unit (present-day Nagasaki University Medical Department) had told Ryoko the night before that his university president had said, "The new bomb in Hiroshima was dropped right after the warning was lifted. Don't leave the shelter right away."

But Sakue was eager to go out and play. "Don't worry. No bomb will be dropped. Let's go." Ryoko insisted, pulling Sakue back by her piggyback sling [baby carrier]. Sakue reluctantly returned to the shelter. That was the turning point of life and death.

At about 11 a.m., the three were playing in the shelter. All of a sudden they were enveloped in a yellow flash. The blast dashed them onto the rocks in the shelter, and they lost consciousness.

When Sakue came to, she found the five-meter [16.4-foot]-deep shelter full of injured people: one person whose eyeballs were popping out and hanging, another person charred, a middle high school student in the neighborhood whose intestines were sticking out. An unfamiliar old woman begged Sakue to give her a drop of water, but she was motionless with horror. The shouts of "Kill me! Give me water!" echoed. She threw up repeatedly with the intense stench of death. She found Ryoko, who had fainted, and rescued her nephew from between the rocks. The three huddled together deep inside the shelter.

Sakue cried out, "Mother, please come quickly and help us! What are you doing?" But her mother and sister had been exposed to the bomb and were dead by then.

It was early the next morning when Sakue heard a voice calling from outside the shelter, "Anyone alive?" It was her father's voice. Sakue shouted at the top of her voice, "Dad, help us!" She was surrounded by the injured and dead. As she tried to step out of the shelter, she stepped onto someone and was scolded with an "Ouch!" Her father brought out Sakue, Ryoko, and their nephew.

It was nothing but burned ruins outside. Sakue lost her clogs and walked barefoot. The ground was hot and she continued crying, "Ouch! Ouch!"

They could tell their house by its remaining concrete gate. As she dug through the rubble by hand, Sakue found a charred body. Its two hands covered its eyes and ears, probably trying to dodge the bombing. Moving the hands, she found eyes and ears still unburned: It was her 22-year-old big sister. Her mother was found dead in a neighbor's home, her body charred black and her gold tooth the only proof of her identity. The corpse collapsed in tatters to the touch. Sakue was too stunned to cry.

A day after the atomic bomb, she got notice that a rescue party would be distributing food on the big bridge over the Urakami River, about 500 meters [0.3 mile] from the hypocenter. She went there with Ryoko and their neighbors.

Sakue saw many people near the bridge who had rice balls in their hands or had eaten and collapsed. They were all dead. Black, bloated bodies floated down the river, some getting hung up on big rocks.

They all got a white rice ball each. In those days, white rice was scarce; they all used to eat rice mixed with soybean lees. When they had a family reunion, they would eat a small amount of white rice in a porridge that was mostly radish. Sakue used to tell her mother, "I wish I could eat pure white rice even once. I don't need anything else."

However, now that she had her long-sought white rice, she felt no joy. She split the rice ball into two and saw long strings stretching between both halves: the rice was rotten. But Sakue was so hungry, she devoured it anyway. It didn't taste like anything. Such was her first meal after the bombing.

In the evening of the day after the bombing, Sakue's big brother returned to the air raid shelter near home, held up on both sides by two friends. His medical school was 800 meters [0.5 mile] away from the hypocenter, and although he was exposed to the radiation, he was safe since he had been behind a post. His white shirt was in tatters and his steps were shaky, but he had no burns. "Good to see you safe, brother," said Sakue, and the two embraced.

The next day, however, his condition suddenly changed. Hoping to get a doctor to look at him, Sakue's father took him to Michinoo Station where a rescue train was running. He managed to push his son onto a train full of the injured, but his son was literally kicked off the train because he had no burns. Her brother returned to the shelter and was laid down near the entrance. He threw up repeatedly and painfully. Screaming "I don't want to die," he passed away.