JAPANESE

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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

Notes from Nagasaki
My wish to keep growing A-bomb rice forever
Takashi Matsumoto (male, born 1935)
Reported by Sei Ito (male, born 1971)

photo Takashi_Matsumoto

photo Taking the"A-bomb rice"in the hand

It was a day for getting rationed cigarettes. Takashi Matsumoto (age 79, Izumi 3-chome, Nishi Ward, Fukuoka) was in the fifth grade of a national elementary school and was on his way to a shop in front of Nagayo Station from his home in Kohdago, Nagayo (present-day Nagayo-cho). It was his task during the summer holidays to acquire cigarettes.

August 9, 1945. It was a hot day, and he was walking along the river. It was a bit early to line up for the rations, so he went to Nagayo Station to see his favorite steam locomotive. At that moment something flashed. It was a somber, dull yellow light. The whole visible scenery was awash in light. "That strange light was something different from lightning. I couldn't figure out what had happened."

Takashi quickly lay down. He covered his ears with his thumbs and covered his eyes and nose with all his fingers, as he had always been trained to do at school. "Bang!" He heard the tremendous sound of an explosion and felt a blast of heat blow over his body. About a minute later, he got up and rushed out of the station.

After he ran out of Nagayo Station, he realized that it was dark outside. He looked up at the sky. "What's this?" It had been sunny just before, but now he saw a whirling cloud in the sky. This mostly black cloud, mixed with red and white, was swirling violently. He was about 3.5 kilometers [2.2 miles] away from the hypocenter, but the cloud was rapidly approaching and he felt like he would be swallowed up. "For the first time in my life, I thought I was dying." This scene was deeply engraved in his mind.

After the war, he saw many pictures of the mushroom cloud. However, he had a feeling that something was wrong. He thought those pictures, taken from far up in the sky, were too different to ignore, and did not really convey the actual fear he had experienced being right under the cloud.

One time, that scene came back to him. It was June 1991, when he saw a television picture of the pyroclastic flow caused by the eruption of Mt. Unzen's Fugendake peak on the Shimabara Peninsula. The dead and missing totaled 43. He saw on TV the stream of heated rocks and volcanic ash running down the mountain at accelerating speed and completely overwhelming all the trees. He thought, "This approaching terror seems very similar to the one I felt when I saw the mushroom cloud."

Seized with fear at the sight of the mushroom cloud, Takashi ran for his life back to his house in Kohdago from Nagayo Station. He doesn't remember at all which way he went. His house was formerly a wooden one-story house, but now pillars and the roof were all that remained. The sliding shutters and sliding doors had all been blown off.

After a while, people came in a stream, fleeing for safety from Nagasaki. Their clothes were in tatters, their skin was burned, and they were dragging their feet. They were all silent, trying only to get as far away as they could.

Many carrier-based planes of the U.S. Air Force came flying over, repeatedly flying in circles at an extremely low altitude. People would usually run away in all directions, but not that day. Nobody ran away. They just kept walking absentmindedly. "The shock of the atomic bomb was too big for them, I guess."

Three or four days later, he went into the city to visit his relatives. On the way he saw many burned dead bodies on the ground. There was a dead horse, hanging down from a concrete tank at a height of three or four meters [10 or 13 feet], probably blown away by the blast.

Takashi was the fourth of six children. His two younger sisters had died of illness during the war, so at that time he lived with his parents, two older sisters and one older brother.

His eldest sister, who was six years older than him, was making parts for torpedoes at Mitsubishi Arms Factory's Ohashi Plant. When the bomb hit, she was blown off her feet by the blast and lost consciousness, but she was shaken awake by someone and walked back home. To this day this sister refuses to talk about that time, saying "I don't want to remember." She doesn't want to go to Nagasaki, either, saying "I think so many souls are buried there."

About a year later his family moved away because his father was transferred. After graduating from high school, Takashi got a job and eventually settled in Fukuoka. He himself does not suffer any aftereffects, but his parents and brother all died of cancer. His other sister, who went into Nagasaki the day after the A-bombing to see if her school was all right, has suffered from thyroid cancer and breast cancer and has had operations for them both.

Takashi says, "Since so many in my family have had cancer, I have a fear of getting it myself. I feel as if I am holding a time bomb within." So he always takes great care of his health.

In autumn 2005, Takashi Matsumoto got some seed rice at a gathering of A-bomb survivors in Nishi Ward, Fukuoka. It came from the rice that survived the A-bomb in Urakami and was passed down as "A-bomb rice."

Sixty years had passed and he had a feeling that he was losing the memories of his own experiences. "It is not right. I should try to prevent the memories of the A-bomb exposure from fading away by growing these 'silent witnesses' that survived exposure to the A-bomb."

In spring 2006, he planted the seeds in his garden. He spread fertilizer and raised them with great care, and when autumn came he found golden ears all bowing in unison. However, he also found many empty husks without rice in them.

The "A-bomb rice" was gathered and raised in succession by the department of agriculture of Kyushu University. The reason why all the grains did not have seeds in them was that many had chromosomes that were severed by strong radiation.

Takashi plants them at the end of May and looks forward to seeing the ears of rice in autumn every year. He writes as follows in his blog.

"I want to continue growing them next year, the year after that, and forever, as a messenger who desires peace!"

Takashi has been involved in activities to perpetuate the memory, such as attending the Peace Memorial Ceremony and growing "A-bomb rice," but he had never talked about his experiences as a storyteller. He had no idea what to say to the children of today, whose parents don't know the war themselves.

In autumn 2012, he reported that he was growing A-bomb rice at a gathering of A-bomb survivors in Nishi Ward, Fukuoka. To his surprise, everybody seemed very interested in his story. He thought, "If I talk frankly about what I am doing and what I have experienced, the audience might get more out of it than I think." The next year, in 2013, he visited an elementary school in Fukuoka as a storyteller for the first time.

"Tens of thousands of people were killed by just one bomb and many are still suffering from its aftereffects." In this way, he described the terror of the A-bomb. He also told them that when he was exposed to the A-bomb he was about their age, and that once war breaks out, then food, clothing and shoes would be hard to find. "Most children were listening to me with their eyes wide open. I was encouraged by them." This year, he is planning to tell his experiences at elementary schools again.

* Originally published in Japanese in 2014 in the series "ナガサキノート [Notes from Nagasaki]," The Asahi Shimbun (Nagasaki morning edition), April 2014.