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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

Notes from Nagasaki
At that moment,I heard the voices of children
Kenichi Mori (male, born 1928)
Reported by Shohei Okada (male, born 1981)

photo Kenichi Mori at Nagasaki Municipal Shiroyama Elementary School, hit by the atomic bomb

photo Seeing children off at Shiroyama Elementary School's graduation ceremony (March 2014)

"Oh look, the parachute of a B-29. . ." Kenichi Mori (86, in Shiroyama-machi, Nagasaki) still remembers those words very clearly, which were uttered by the children who were in front of his house at the moment the A-bomb exploded.

Mr. Mori had just returned home from Nagasaki Station where he worked. His house was in Shiroyama-machi 1-chome (present-day Aoyama-machi), 1.2 kilometers [3/4 mile] west of the hypocenter. He was already inside his house, so he survived though he was injured all over his body. But those children who were outdoors seemed to have lost their lives.

On August 9, 2013, on the memorial day for the A-bomb victims, I met Mr. Mori for the first time. He was attending the Peace Memorial Ceremony held at Nagasaki Municipal Shiroyama Elementary School and was silently shedding tears. "Whenever I think of those days, tears start falling down before I can say anything."

Many years ago, he graduated from this school. The schoolhouse, designated as a national cultural asset in 2013, had been built while he was in school and survived the A-bomb. He lives in the neighborhood and keeps his eyes on the schoolchildren while cleaning around the school or doing other activities, hoping their smiles last forever.

Mr. Mori was born in present-day Shinkamigoto-cho in the nearby Goto Islands and moved to Shiroyama-machi 1-chome in Nagasaki City when an infant. In 1934, he entered Shiroyama National Higher Elementary School (which later became Shiroyama National Elementary School and now Nagasaki Municipal Shiroyama Elementary School). His schoolhouse was a modern concrete building said then to be "the best schoolhouse in western Japan." In retrospect he says, "Back in those days we had nothing, but I enjoyed each day."

At school, they had to recite the Imperial Rescript on Education. The year he graduated from the school (1940) was said to be the 2,600th anniversary of Emperor Jinmu's enthronement, so they also had to sing a song to celebrate that anniversary.

After he entered Fuchi Higher Elementary School (later Fuchi National Elementary School, now Nagasaki Municipal Fuchi Middle School), he was asked to join the Volunteer Pioneer Youth Army of Manchuria and Mongolia. He intended to go to Manchuria, so he wrote a letter to his brother who was in a campaign in Burma (Myanmar), saying, "I am going to Manchuria." However, he came down with pleurisy, and had to give the idea up. "Almost all the people who had joined the Volunteer Pioneer Youth Army did not return home." After graduation, he started working at Nagasaki Station for the Railway Ministry (former National Railways).

Mr. Mori remembers that it was fine weather on the morning of August 9, 1945. He had finished night duty from the previous night, and was off that day. While he was still in the office, he heard an air raid warning, but it was called off after a while. Usually he stayed at the office, but that day he started walking toward his house in Shiroyama-machi 1-chome right after the warning was called off.

At around 11:00 a.m., he returned home, soaked with sweat. "I was lucky to be home. If I were still walking, I would not be talking with you like this."

He took off his shirt and breathed a sigh of relief. It was at that moment that he heard the children's voices outside. "Oh look, the parachute of a B-29. . ." Scarcely could he hear their last words when he was blown away and lost consciousness.

He doesn't know what happened to the children, saying, "I'm sure they couldn't have survived."

Mr. Mori was unconscious after being blown away. Pieces of broken glass had stuck all over into his body, and when he came to, he found that his neck was bleeding terribly.

He found his younger sister trapped under a fallen beam in the kitchen and tried to get her out. However, his neck was still bleeding, and he couldn't lift up the beam. Against his will, he had to give it up and went into an air raid shelter, which had already been dug out on the slope near his house.

After a while, his sister joined him in the air raid shelter. Their next-door neighbor, Mr. Moriyama, rescued her, according to her. "He is the one to whom we owe her life. There is nothing but gratitude." Their house burned down shortly after that. His mother, who was then in Nagayo Village(present-day Nagayo-cho) came to the air raid shelter. Mr. Mori had thought that a bomb had been dropped above his house, but his mother told him that there was nothing left in the whole area and he understood the situation. He spent three days in the shelter. Because of the wound in his neck, he could not move at all.

After the three days in the shelter, he was hospitalized in a hospital at the Kawaminami Industry Shipyard on Koyagi Island. A tunnel in the shipyard served as the hospital.

It was while recuperating in the tunnel that he heard the news of the war's end, and soon after was moved to a relief station that seemed to have been a dormitory. He still can't forget a young woman who was suffering in another bed at the relief station. She was groaning, saying, "Take the maggots away!" and asked me to inform her family who were in Fujitsu-gun or Kishima-gun in Saga Prefecture. He thought, "I would do anything to inform her family if I were well enough." He still worries about what happened to her.

He also remembers the sight of coffins piled up like a mountain at the relief station. "It could be my turn next." Such a thought crossed his mind.

He got out of the hospital at the beginning of October, and from there went directly to Nagasaki Station where he worked. "Stationmaster, I'm back," he reported, but the stationmaster said, "Heavens! Somebody told me you had died." It seemed that everyone thought he had been killed by the A-bomb.

Around October 1945, Mr. Mori and his family returned to the neighborhood of their former house in Shiroyama-machi, and started living in a temporary shelter. As the days went by, he noticed smoke rising here and there from burned-out ruins. It turned out to be smoke from dead bodies being cremated. Each time smoke rose to the sky told him that another person had died.

Mr. Mori also suffered from acute symptoms such as bleeding from the gums and bloody stools. He had undergone a physical checkup by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), but, he said, "They never let me know the results."

In 1950 or 1951, he learned from a medical checkup at a hospital that his white cell count was lower than normal, but told himself, "I will never let sickness defeat me!" Since then he has devoted himself to baseball and softball, which became his ways of staying upbeat. When he was small, he liked to hit a ball of cloth with a stick. He even pitched a softball game as a member of his company team against other company teams. He also acted as both a baseball and softball umpire for more than twenty years, and was also involved in boys' baseball.

"Kayoko's Cherry Trees" are growing on the grounds of Nagasaki Municipal Shiroyama Elementary School. There are more cherry trees across the fence near them, too. They were all planted in 1997 by classmates of Mr. Mori who were volunteering their time. Back when they attended the school, there were cherry trees surrounding the entire school, and they wanted to recreate even a little of that view. Since they graduated from this school in the 15th year under Emperor Showa [1940], they planted fifteen saplings and named them "The Fifteen Cherry Trees." Today Mr. Mori lives in the neighborhood and visits the school quite often, so he checks the trees each time, saying "I am a watcher of the cherry trees."

For more than thirty years he has continued cleaning around the school and keeping watch over the schoolchildren. Now the children recognize him and call him "Uncle Mori." He has also attended many entrance ceremonies and graduation ceremonies.

After hearing stories from Mr. Mori at Shiroyama Elementary School, we looked over at the playground where schoolchildren were playing. "How cute they are!" he said smiling. "Nobody goes to war with a smiling face." That is why he wants the children to keep smiling. This is Mr. Mori's wish.

* 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-May 2014.