JAPANESE

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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

Notes from Nagasaki
Christmas in the Year of the A-Bomb
Tomei Ozaki (male, born 1928)
By Gen Okada (male, born 1978)

photo Tomei Ozaki photo A photo under Mr. Ozaki's custody of the ruins of the Urakami Cathedral

On December 24, 2008, a Christmas Mass was offered at the monastery of the Knights of the Immaculata, located at Hongochi 2-chome, Nagasaki City. After praying at the altar, Brother Tomei Ozaki (80) looked back and told the reporter, "Even in 1945, the year of the A-bombing and Japan's defeat, Christmas at this monastery was far from meager." The monastery, which had been founded by a Polish priest, received plenty of provisions from the Allied Occupation Forces, because Poland was one of the victorious nations.

The A-bomb deprived Tomei of his mother, his only family and a pious Christian. Remembering that he had been to the monastery with his mother, he relied on it afterward to become a seminarian.

The Christmas party in 1945 was held in the Polish style. The monks broke bread with each other and sang hymns in Latin. One monk said, "There are so many people in miserable conditions because of the A-bombing that Santa Claus would be too busy to come here." So he gave Tomei a gift instead: a school uniform. All of a sudden, Tomei wondered why he, well and happy, was enjoying the festivity then and there.

The next day, most seminarians went home. Tomei, however, had no place to which he could return.

Brother Tomei is a descendant of the Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden Christians"), a modern term for members of the Japanese Catholic Church during the Edo period who went underground once the shogunate banned Christianity after the Shimabara Rebellion in the 1630s. He was born in Rajin in the northeast part of the Korean Peninsula, where his parents were working away from home. He was an only child, and wasn't weaned until he was three years old. His father died suddenly when Tomei was ten, leaving mother and son to lead their lives together.

They were the only Catholics in Rajin, which made them uncomfortable. Undergoing an oral examination to apply for junior high, Tomei was asked, "If the emperor's army and the Christian army were at war, which would you join?" He answered, "The Christian army," but shed tears in vexation.

At the age of 15, Tomei was afflicted with spinal tuberculosis. Since even the big hospitals in Korea could not help him, they returned to Urakami, his mother's hometown, and he was admitted to Nagasaki Medical College Hospital (present-day Nagasaki University Hospital). Near the hospital soared the grand red-brick Urakami Catholic Church (now a cathedral), which was said to be the largest one in the East. "I felt as if I had been placed in the bosom of fellow Christians. My discomfort had disappeared."

During Tomei's three-year hospitalization, his mother stayed at the hospital and took care of him. She never missed her morning and evening prayers at the church. After leaving the hospital, he attended Mass every morning.

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Tomei was employed by the Mitsubishi Arms Factory in 1944 as a child worker. He worked at its tunnel factory (built to cope with American air raids) at Akasako, Nagasaki City.

On the morning of August 9, 1945, Tomei left his home in Okamachi, Nagasaki (500 meters [1/3 mile] from the hypocenter). He called out to his mother, saying "Mom, I'm leaving." Usually she would see him off with "Have a good day." On that particular day, she did not respond, but Tomei didn't mind. Walking in wooden geta clogs, he looked back to find her smiling face in the window of the kitchen, where she was washing dishes. He never thought that that would be the last moment he would see her smile.

Praying with a rosary in his hand as usual, Tomei headed for the factory. In his diary he wrote about the very moment the A-bomb exploded:

"At around 11, I was working at a torpedo-making line in the sixth tunnel plant of the arms factory, near Michinoo. Suddenly the light bulbs went out, and the tunnel became pitch dark."

With an explosive sound, the bomb blast roared in. It was so loud that his ears were deafened for a while. No one in the tunnel plant knew it was an A-bomb. One said, "A burst of compressed air, maybe," and another said, "I think dynamite must have exploded at the entrance of the tunnel." Rumors were rampant. Without light, it was impossible to work. Some young workers shouted, "Hey, now we can have a good rest!"

Then a girl student rushed in, weeping. She was supposed to deliver lunch to the workers. Her hair was scorched and frizzy, and she had severe burns. She said, "A strong light like the sun flashed across the sky. When I came to, I saw I had been injured like this."

In no time, the 300-meter [330-yard] tunnel was crowded with blood-stained people. Stricken by the sheer size of the disaster, Tomei hid himself behind some machines. But a navy patrol group found him and ordered him at bayonet point to collect the wounded. He reluctantly left the tunnel plant to find that the neighboring houses were burning furiously.

He wondered why no one was trying to extinguish the fires. Until just the previous day, people had been repeatedly mobilized to join fire drills. Whatever had been there in the morning was gone.

In front of him, a taxi lay on its side, its driver thrown into the field, motionless. Climbing a hill, Tomei saw a sea of fire. He became worried about his mother who was at home, 1.8 kilometers [1.1 miles] away from the factory.

He walked home through the burning town. A charred man stood dead on his feet, his eyes popping out and his tongue dangling. Another man lay in the throes of death. Tomei found himself walking quietly among the corpses that were scattered everywhere.

"I could not understand why I wasn't injured. Strangely, I felt as if I were a chosen man who was spared disaster."

After walking for five hours, he arrived at a place from where he should have been able to see his house. But nothing was left.

He had made a ring from a scrap of metal using machines at the factory and given it to his mother; she always wore it. Although he searched, nothing was found in the debris of his house. He could not find her remains or the ring.

Tomei returned to the tunnel factory and stayed overnight there. In his half sleep, whether dream or illusion, he saw his mother. He asked, "Where are you, Mom?" She smiled, and disappeared.

He remembered a fairytale she used to often tell him, the story of a mother frog and her child. When a heavy rain was about to wash away the mother frog's tomb, the child frog cried hard. Tomei's mother had said, "That's why frogs cry when it rains." Now Tomei cried, "The mother frog left her body in the tomb. Where is your body, Mom?"

Tomei returned home again the next morning, but still could find nothing there. From that night on, he slept in the Shiroyama mountains. Over the river, he could see the ruins of Urakami Catholic Church. Only its broken fa?ade and part of a side wall remained. Something around the altar was burning red. At that time, the army used the church as a warehouse for rice and canned foods. Perhaps those provisions were burning. He heard priests and dozens of believers had died there, but their remains were not found, either.

Tomei spent seventeen days after the bombing living in the open with his neighbors. Among them were three little sisters who had lived next door. They used to bring flowers from their garden for him and his mother. The three had no visible wounds, but they began growing weaker day by day. Tomei somehow obtained eggs and vegetables for them to eat, but in vain; purple specks began to spread over their whole bodies, and they died one after another.

Instead of coffins, he piled up three chest drawers to cremate the girls. Though their heads and limbs were reduced to ashes, their internal organs were not. He had to split their bodies open with a bamboo stick to complete the cremation process, saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." He shed no more tears.

In September, Tomei went to his father's family at Sotome-cho (present-day Sotome District, Nagasaki City). By then he had begun to suffer from weariness, skin rashes on his hands, and diarrhea. He was too exhausted to do anything but nap. He wrote a letter to a friend, but the friend had died because of the A-bomb. Tomei found himself at a loss.

Then, suddenly, he remembered the monastery to which his mother had once taken him.

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