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Right after dropping of the atomic bomb, Reiko Hada run up this steps to the air-raid shelter
Asked to Speak in New Zealand
Reiko Hada(female, born 1936)
Reported by Taro Ono (male, born 1988)
Talk about the experiences of the atomic bomb attack, showing photo
In New Zealand, after the speech, the children offered Hada their hands
"Could you come to our office?" It was October 2013, and Reiko Hada had received a phone call from the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace. Ms. Hada, now aged 77, is a resident of Nishiyama 4-chome, Nagasaki, and gives about 60 public talks a year about her experience of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki during World War II. She went to the office thinking this must be an invitation to one such speaking engagement, but upon arriving she was told, "We'd like you to come with us. . . ." and was taken to the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims.
Waiting for her there was Director Masanobu Chita. "Would you be willing to go to New Zealand to speak about your atomic bomb experience?" he asked her. She was being requested to play a big role in the "Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition," which Japan has held in various parts of the world since 1995 to convey the reality of the devastation caused by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Ms. Hada had been exposed to the A-bomb at her residence in Katafuchi 3-chome, 2.6 kilometers [1.6 miles] southeast of the hypocenter. Between her house and the hypocenter stood Mt. Konpira, which, towering at more than 366 meters [1,200 feet] above sea level, had shielded her from serious injury. She wondered why she had been selected to speak-some elementary school students had remarked, "But you have no scars!"-but there was no time to worry about that. She made arrangements for an interpreter, and in November flew to the southern hemisphere as an envoy for denuclearization under the auspices of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Little Reiko Hada had entered Kaminagasaki National Elementary School (present-day Nagasaki Municipal Kaminagasaki Elementary School) in 1943. She was excited about her brand new school bag, and when her mother, Toki, came to observe her class in progress, Reiko often raised her hand with enthusiasm. But during her second school term, enemy planes began appearing in the sky, and the atmosphere in school gradually changed. Teachers began teaching the children about air raid warnings and enemy plane attacks. By June 1945 the school had closed, and children gathered at nearby temples to study.
Food was difficult to obtain under the rationing system. The main meal was a sloppy soup, occasionally with some rice or potato mixed in. "You could see your face in the bowl when you held it up, so we called it the "mirror meal." Dried soy lees were sometimes used as a rice substitute. Ms. Hada remembers her mother only pretending to eat. At night young Reiko slept with her shoes on in a three-tatami mat [about 53 sq. feet] room just above the entrance to the house, ready to evacuate at any time. Sometimes she slept with her air raid hood on. Such was daily life at the time.
It was August 9, 1945. Ms. Hada woke to the sound of an air raid warning. The alarm cleared and she was just about to step over the threshold of the house when. . . . "It happened in an instant." Lights of various colors-persimmon, orange, yellow-passed before her eyes. Then everything went white.
The weight of the futon on her body brought her back to herself. She had been blown back six meters [about 20 feet] from the entrance of the house, down onto its earthen floor. What immediately came to mind was her teacher saying, "Go to the air raid shelter if something unusual happens." She helped up her mother, who had huddled in the corner of the kitchen, and together they ran up the steps on the hillside outside the house.
There was panic in the town's air raid shelters. "The bomb was dropped on the roof of my house." "No, it was dropped on the house next to mine!" After dark she went outside and saw the sky above Mt. Konpira glowing an eerie red. To the left, fire was emerging from the prefectural office. She couldn't help but fear that the fires would reach her house.
The day after the bomb, there was a man walking on the road headed to Urakami, and he was naked to the waist. A student at Nagasaki Medical College (present-day Nagasaki University School of Medicine), he lived two houses down, and Ms. Hada used to greet him each morning, wishing him a good day. Now she saw that his entire back was deeply pierced with pieces of glass. Women in the neighborhood began pulling out the glass shards with chopsticks they brought from their homes. As soon as the glass was removed, red blood came flowing. "That sight remains fresh in my mind," says Ms. Hada. She heard that the student died the following day.
She sometimes accompanied her mother, Toki, who had been mobilized to do rescue work, to the Nagasaki Economics School (present-day Nagasaki University Faculty of Economics). The people who had been carried there suffered terrible wounds: abdomens ripped open, skin melted, and ears missing. Hearing a weak voice plead for water, Ms. Hada ran to a nearby river, a cracked cup in her hand. A terrible stench lingered in the heat, but, she says, "I wasn't scared or disgusted by it."
After the war ended, Ms. Hada decided to commit to a life of service to others, recalling the medical student who had died on his way to becoming a doctor. After graduating from Nagasaki Higashi High School, she studied for two years at a vocational school in Tokyo to obtain her nursing qualification. She returned to Nagasaki and worked at dental clinics and the like, and in 1961 became a school nurse at a junior high school.
In 1978, the Nagasaki City Board of Education defined the "Three Basic Principles of Peace Education," declaring that "The atomic bombing is not to be made the primary issue." Ms. Hada never talked about her experience with the bomb at school. But a turning point came in 1991. "Why don't you tell your story?" the principal of Nomozaki Municipal Takahama Elementary School (present-day Nomozaki Elementary School in Nagasaki) suggested to Ms Hada. At home she pulled out books about the atomic bomb to revive her memories of events that had occurred 46 years before. She also listened to the account of her sister Shizue, who was 15 years older and had been a teacher at Shinkozen National Elementary School (present-day location of the Nagasaki City Library) when she was hit by the A-bomb.
On August 9th of that same year Ms. Hada found herself in her school's gymnasium full of students who had gathered to hear her speak. She began to talk without looking at her notes, trying instead to look directly into the children's faces as she spoke to them. That mid-summer talk in the gymnasium was the one time she spoke of her experience while she was a school nurse. Shortly afterwards, several children came to visit her in the nurse's office and asked, "What did you do after that ?" In response to the children's "desire to know" she felt the need to convey the reality of the atomic bomb, and the war that had led to its use, in order to sow seeds of peace. And so began her witness to the atomic bomb.
Now, almost 70 years since the war's end, there are fewer hibakusha [people who experienced an atomic bombing] in the daily life of children. Ms. Hada would like hibakusha who have not shared their experiences to tell even just a bit of their stories if possible. Until she began speaking as a member of the "Nagasaki Witness Association" she was not so eager to share her own experience because she feared her story was not worth relating. Mr. Takeshi Yamakawa (77) of the Witness Association encouraged her: "The Nagasaki bombing is like a big jigsaw puzzle," he said. "Your experience is one piece of that puzzle."
In 2013, Ms. Hada visited the War Memorial Museum in Auckland, New Zealand as an envoy for denuclearization from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There she saw two photographs representing the hibakusha of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but the description read only "Hiroshima." " Was Nagasaki bombed too?" local people asked her. For that matter, sometimes when she asks elementary school children in Japan what days the atomic bombs fell few children raise their hands to answer.
Still, when she related her experience at Japanese language schools, for example, the children gave her their full attention, many waiting in line afterwards to shake her hand. Shaking hands with one young elementary school girl, Ms. Hada asked her , "Did you understand?" When the girl answered, "It's so scary!", she knew she had succeeded in getting her message across.
If the atomic bomb had been dropped in the vicinity of the Tokiwa Bridge or Megane Bridge, the original target points, nothing could have prevented her from dying that day in her home in Katafuchi. "I think I was spared so that I could tell others about my experience. I don't want our children to ever have to go through what I went through."
* 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), May 2014.