In the autumn of 2014, my father and other members of our family paid a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (HPMM). There were two reasons for this.
One reason was to have the official wartime Record of My Father’s Experience of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb archived there. Originally, in 1994, my father submitted his record to the atomic bomb-related office in Kanagawa prefecture in Japan where he lives, which led me to believe that it would automatically be archived at the HPMM. Since 2000, my father’s record has been archived at the Imperial War Museum in London and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. However, by pure coincidence, I happened to recently find out that my father’s record had not been archived in the HPMM. It has been over 20 years since my father wrote the record, and only recently were we able to submit it by visiting the HPMM in person. In April 2015, the official Record of My Father’s Experience of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb was formally archived at Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims.The second reason to visit the HPMM was because I found out that the “legging wrap” (gaiter) my father had wrapped around his ankle when he became a victim of the atomic bomb back in 1945 had been previously archived at the HPMM, and I wanted to confirm this.
When my father became the first-degree (the worst of all degrees) victim of the atomic bomb, he was struggling for his life and his horrendous burns were excruciatingly painful and unbearable to see. His mother, who is my grandmother, hid all the mirrors in the house in case my father saw himself in the mirrors and got the shock of his life. If you read through his personal record, you will find that as much as he was hurt physically, the horrendous nightmare experience has psychologically left a very deep scar. Until he wrote his record in 1994, he had never spoken to anyone about his Hiroshima bomb experience in detail. From consideration not to hurt my father’s feelings, I was always told by his family that it was prohibited to talk about the atomic bomb.
Originally, my father had no intention of disclosing his ‘bomb’ experience for the rest of his life. However, when he was encouraged by people around him that ‘it was his responsibility to leave a factual record as one of the victims of the atomic bomb’, he decided to change his mind. For the first time, nearly 50 years after the atomic bomb was dropped, my father decided to recollect the horror that he experienced in the past and to leave it permanently as a record.
Because of these circumstances, you can understand that none of my relatives from my father’s side, let alone my father, had ever previously spoken about the atomic bomb. However, when I visited Japan in the spring of 2014, I was having a chat with my uncle and this is what he told me:
“When we renovated this house (where my father was raised) 40 years ago, there were a lot of things that we got rid of. Among them were your father’s school uniform and leggings that he had wrapped around his ankles at the time the bomb exploded. They were burnt to shreds. By then your father had recovered and was well enough to go and work in America, so I figured it was a good time to get rid of them, as I did with all the rest of the things in the house. Well, that’s what I thought. Later, I found in one of the drawers in the house, your father’s burnt and misshapen leggings wrapped up so very small and neatly. It must have been your grandmother who rescued the leggings and put them back in the drawer. For her, her loving son had finally made it through the ordeal and survived, so she probably couldn’t let go and must have deliberately put them back in the drawer. That’s why after I found them in the drawer, I took your father’s leggings to the HPMM and they are now archived there.”
This was the first time that I heard about the leggings story. I spoke to my father about this but he wasn’t aware that the leggings had survived. I wanted to see and confirm my father’s leggings with my own eyes; the leggings that could have helped to save my father’s life. So I contacted the HPMM.
Unfortunately, the museum was unable to find the leggings that were archived under my father’s name because they were submitted so many years ago and the specific ownership was unknown. I was told by the museum that there were several leggings had been archived without any associated names, so we decided to visit the museum and have my father see them himself and confirm if he could identify if they were his.
My relatives from my mother’s side reside in Hiroshima, where the museum is located, so we all decided to visit the museum together, to explore things further.When we arrived at the HPMM, we were welcomed by Ms. Shimomura from the Arts Division. In the room where we were invited, there was something that looked like a burnt rag displayed on a rectangular table. After taking a closer look, it was a legging that seemed to have blood stains. We sat around the legging, and while answering some questions, my father started to talk about his experience of the atomic bomb for almost an hour. I had never heard him talk about his bomb experience for that length of time and in so much detail. Of course, it was the first time for my relatives too. Ms. Shimomura thanked my father for the opportunity to directly hear his story. She also said that she was lost for words and she found it difficult to imagine how horrendous the experience must have been for the atomic bomb victims.
Through this visit, I found out that the leggings that my father was wearing were not something he bought from a shop, but were hand-made by my grandmother. Lack of supplies during the war and my father being a student then, luxury was not an option. My grandmother recycled her ‘obishin’ (the centre of the kimono obi sash), dyed it to make it look like leggings and whip stitched it. It was a very unique piece of material and design and very much in tune with what my father wore at that time.
My father says that originally, he wore both right and left leggings. Because my father was hit by the bomb from his left side, his left legging was burnt to shreds but his right side had kept most of its original shape. From the look of the displayed legging, it didn’t look ready-made but rather hand-made using an ‘obishin’. However, he did not have his name tag on it (this was not common practice at the time), the colour had probably changed after the explosion and the 70 years of passing and it was also left in shreds. My father says that it looked very much like his but he was unable to definitely confirm this. It looked as though there were blood stains so I thought if we conducted a DNA test, it would be possible to confirm if the legging was his or not, but my father said to me,
“We don’t need to do all that. I don’t really mind whether that’s considered to be mine or not. As long as my record is archived at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, that is more than enough for me. There were so many that suffered much more than me.”
After we finished our visit to the museum that day, my father also said to me,
“I spoke a lot about that day today, so the many memories that I had forgotten have come back, and it’s such a dreadful feeling….”
He looked and said it in such a sad way, I felt so sorry for making my father feel so uncomfortable. That was the moment I firmly decided that there was no way that we would need to conduct a DNA test.
As for the HPMM, because there is no 100% concrete proof that this legging is my father’s, they said that they were unable to formally display it as his. My father does not mind at all. If anyone should be interested in viewing the legging, they should be able to do so by contacting the museum in advance.I am sure my loving mother, who is sadly not with us today, must be happy that my father and I were able to visit the HPMM together with her siblings, my uncle and aunts whom I hardly get to see, and to have been able to archive my father’s record there. My uncle and aunt not only look like my mother, but also have the same pleasant and happy personality, so it felt as though I was with her, and the time I spent with them was really heartwarming and precious.
When we visited the museum, I slightly touched the corner of my grandmother’s hand-made legging, which I have a feeling I wasn’t really supposed to. (To all the archivist at the museum, I’m sorry!) By touching the legging, however, I was able to indulge in a joyful feeling, as if I had met my grandmother again. I was also able to thank the legging for helping to save my father’s life and for my grandmother for sewing the leggings for my father.
At the time of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb, I’d like to express my appreciation to uncle Takuji, cousin Aki-chan, aunt Hisako and aunt Michiko for helping me to gather all the information about my father’s personal experience of that very sad day. Thank you so much to everybody.