Succeeding the A-Bomb Experiences
Young Medical Workers Listen to the A-Bomb Victims and Record their Testimonies in “Burned by Pika (A-Bomb Flash)”
Report: Inoguchi Hajime
Photos: Mamezuka Takeshi
This summer marks the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now that the average age of the Hibakusha, A-Bomb survivors, has passed 75, the number of those who can talk about their first-hand experiences is dwindling.
In order to hand down the devastation caused by the atomic bombing of the city on August 6, 1945 and succeed the victims’ will to achieve peace to future generations, in Hiroshima Medical Coop, every year the workers in their second year of service take on the project of listening to the Hibakusha and compile their stories in a booklet “Burned by Pika (A-Bomb Flash)”.
Publication was nearly suspended due to the aging of the Hibakusha
Hiroshima Medical Coop, which has now become Hiroshima Kyoritu Hospital, has worked for the medical care of the Hibakusha for a long time, since it first opened its clinic.
“Burned by Pika” was originally published every year by the A-Bomb Victims Association, established in 1974 by the Hibakusha members of the Hiroshima Medical Coop, as a collection of A-Bomb experiences of their members.
Due to the aging of their members, it became difficult for them to continue the publication. In 2005, the 60th year of the A-Bombing, with the publication of the 28th issue of the booklet, the association decided to stop publishing it.
However, Hiroshima Medical Coop decided to continue to hand down their experiences to younger generations, and in 2006, edited and published the “Burned by Pika: Part II”, as part of the training program of its workers in their second year of service.
“Everybody was killed in an instant”
Three nurses in their second year of working in hospital wards one day visited the home of Mr. Yagi Yoshihiko (age 75).
In August 1945, Mr. Yagi was 11, a 5th grader of Hakushima Primary School, which was located 1.5 km of the blast center. On the morning of August 6, he reached his classroom, placed his schoolbag on his desk and just about going out to the playground to join his friends. He felt a brilliant flash, and next moment, he was under the collapsed school building blown by the bomb blast.
He miraculously was able to crawl out of the debris. What caught his eyes were the dead bodies of his schoolmates scattered around in the schoolyard. Several hundred of the pupils were killed and all the school buildings collapsed and were burnt to the ground.
“The power of the A-bomb was just dreadful. My friends’ clothes were tattered and their skin was completely destroyed by burns from the intense heat. Those who were still alive were only breezing faintly and waiting to die, without uttering a word. Very few pupils survived and all the others were killed instantly. Now I may be the only survivor in my class.”
He dragged his feet and managed to find his way in the ruined city to reach where his house had been, but it was all burned down. He headed for his mother’s family home in the northern part of the city and waited there for several days. But none of his family members came to find him.
Desperately trying to find them, he again took his way to the center of the city. He searched everywhere he could and dug out among the debris of the house, but could not find any clue of where his families had gone. Besides himself, only his sister, 3 years younger than him, was safely found out of the 8 members of his family.
People cried, “Give me water”
Spreading maps, photos and old materials one after another, Mr. Yagi spoke about the situation of those days. The three young workers leaned forward and listened intently to his story, nodding to each word.
“As I approached the center of the ground zero, intense smell of the burned flesh of the people penetrated my nose. I saw heaps of dead bodies here and there in the town and on the riverbank. Many people were wandering around with their peeled skin and tattered flesh dangling from their bodies. People were crying, ‘Give me water, give me water…’ The surface of the river was covered by corpuses, looking just like floating logs. Still, many people with heavy burns jumped into the river one after another, unable to bear the pain and heat. It was really a hell on earth”, Mr. Yagi said.
Stillbirth and premature births continued after marriage
He could not find even a fragment of ashes of his parents, brothers and sisters. Kadono Yukiko (nurse), one of the three members who visited Mr. Yagi asked, “When did you finally accept your family members’ deaths?” He answered, “Maybe it was when I inscribed their names in the tombstone of our family grave. It was during the 50th anniversary of the A-bombing and I thought I had reached the turning point. I lost everything. Only a few photos of them were been left behind.”
Mr. Yagi’s story continued over his days after the war ended. “I had great difficulty supporting my living. I could not afford to pay the fee and had to quit school when I was in the second year of junior high school. Since then, I joined apprenticeship of a bicycle repairman, coal carrier and numerous other jobs. As my parents’ kimonos had been kept at their family houses in the countryside, I exchanged them with rice or other foods. I survived by selling my family possessions little by little. I even ate sparrow eggs. I was desperate to survive.”
Even after he got married, it was difficult to have a baby. At last, they had one child. “My wife is also a Hibakusha. She experienced successive stillbirths and premature births and our doctor told us it was better to give up. It should have been due to the aftereffect of the exposure to the A-bomb radiation” Mr. Yagi said with vexation.
“If another war should break out, you would have a miserable life as I did. Now we cannot know when such a war will break out again. You cannot escape from its effects. Ten years from now, most of the Hibakusha will be gone. That is why I want you, younger generations, to inherit the voices of the Hibakusha so that the facts and people’s experiences of the A-bomb will not fade with time. This is my first and foremost desire.”
Mr. Yagi’s story stroke home to the hearts of the three members of Hiroshima Medical Coop. Horita Natsumi (nurse) said, “I was really impressed by his strong statement that he did everything in his power to survive. I felt keenly that he has overcome innumerable hardships, difficulties and conflicts to this day.”
Succession was narrowly made possible
How do the members of the Victims Association think of the booklet publication being succeeded? Ms. Shiga Emiko, who had been involved in editing of the booklet of the Hibakusha experiences for more than 10 years said with a smile, “I’m truly happy that the work was handed over to young people. We are thankful to them and feel very encouraged.” Looking back on the days when she herself worked on the editing work she said, “It was a daunting task. If there are 100 Hibakusha, there were 100 different experiences. Each experience was unique. With only a few of the members available to the editing work, every year we had to work very hard with a dictionary in hand to compile these stories in a booklet.”
“Given such difficulties and a lot of emotion and hard work put into the publication, it was painful for us to make a decision to end it at its 28th issue. Actually, our colleagues who had been working as the editorial committee members died one after another and it was impossible for us to continue, however ardently we might want to. We were really at the end of our rope, when we were narrowly able to pass the torch to these young people.”
Invaluable opportunity to learn the truth
Ms. Ichino Fumiko, a hospital clerk, went through this training course two years ago. “I was also moved to tears when the Hibakusha shared his experience with us, sometimes with a broken voice and tears. His words, ‘Please help abolish nuclear weapons’ left a strong impression on me”, she said.
Fumiko also said that since that experience her eyes were opened more widely to the outer world. “Although it may be difficult to give a concrete shape to peace we are trying to achieve, I want to start with taking what small action I can. The opportunity to listen to the real stories of the Hibakusha is invaluable. I want as many people as possible to listen to them directly”, she said.
Dr. Aoki Katsuaki, former director of Hiroshima Kyoritsu Hospital (currently Director General of Hiroshima Medical Coop and Health Checkup Center of Hiroshima Kyoritsu Hospital), who has worked for the medical care of the Hibakusha for many years said, “This training program (hearing and recording of the Hibakushas’ experiences) gives young medical workers not only the opportunity to edit and publish the booklet of the Hibakusha stories, but to acquire the ‘eye and posture’ to face patients.”
Dr. Aoki expressed his hope for the future of this program, saying, “For the last two years, we have been working in support of the Hibakushas’ collective lawsuits for official A-bomb disease recognition, setting up a special outpatients unit for the Hibakusha for consultation on their A-bomb related illnesses and other problems. I want our staffs to be able to address warmly when they meet the Hibakusha patients at the clinics and help them out willingly. Listening directly to the Hibakusha, they will learn what their next steps should be. This experience will be their invaluable asset in their personal growth to become full-fledged medical professionals.”
A-Bomb damage is continuing
Now the world is beginning to change. President Obama, in his speech in Prague in April said he would aim at a nuclear weapon-free world. Hiroshima Medical Coop decided to translate the booklet “Burned by Pika” into English and send it to the President. The English version will also be sent to the U.N. and the leaders of the nuclear powers, and will be given to the delegates in the World Conference against A & H Bombs to be held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August.
Ms. Shiga said, “By distributing it widely, we want as many people as possible to read the booklet. The atomic bombing is not an event, which ended more than 60 years ago. The damage from the bomb still continues. So we should continue to tell our stories in the “Burned by Pika” to the world.”
Okusa Hiroki (nurse), after listening to the testimony said, “I truly felt the weight of the words and ardent wish of the survivors for us to hand over the horror of the A-bombing to the future. We younger generations will receive the torch from them and carry it firmly to the future, along with their message for peace.”