My Father’s Story

Sixth of August started as another hot summer morning. The sun was strong and shining brightly. Not a single cloud was in the sky. Leaving my boarding house in Yokogawa (*2), I headed for school taking the usual route to Tohka-ichi (*3), where I used to change trams. That was where we heard the air-raid warning. While the siren went on, all the trams stopped and every preparation was made for evacuation.  Soon the air-raid warning stopped and the tram started to run again, but by this time the train was so packed that I was unable to get on. As I was afraid I might be late for school, I put my feet on the top of the wheel bearing, grabbed the rim of the window frame and hanging out of the tram, I remember barely making it to Matoba-cho (Matoba town) (*4).

While the tram was running, the air-raid siren went off again, but it stopped just before we arrived at Matoba-cho. Members of the civilian defense group (katei boogo dan) had also gone back in groups. Worried that I might be tardy, I hurried toward Taisho-bashi (Taisho bridge*5).

A woman standing in front of a house shrieked out “There’s a plane! There’s a plane!” Looking back slightly left toward the direction she was pointing, approximately 45 degrees inclination was a B-29, its triangle wings glaring gold with the reflection of the morning sun. It seemed as though the glittering triangle wings were about to nosedive towards me. The second the thought ran through my mind that I would be hit if it really did come at a 45 degree angle, there was an enormous flash of lightning as if the wiring of a tram had sparked in complete darkness. At the same time I felt as if I had been punched hard in the face with something very powerful. “Waaaah!” It was so indescribably painful that I screamed out and covered my face with both hands. The moment I squatted down, all of a sudden the bomb blast threw my body into the entrance of the house standing by the road. I hit my chest on the stone step of the entrance hall (*7). On top of me came falling the shoebox, shoji screens and all the rest. I was trapped below a completely smashed house. I was suffocating, I couldn’t move at all and could only remember being terrified by the thought of death and wondered, “ Ah, is this the end?”

I do not remember at all how I crawled out of there afterwards. The next thing I knew, I was soaked down to my chest in the river (*6) that flows on the other side of the road. Recovering my consciousness, I suddenly had difficulty breathing and repeatedly blew my nose, gargled and dug into my ears.

Why I felt that I was suffocating I do not know. The power of the bomb blast was so enormous, it wiped out all the houses and buildings in a sheer second. All I can imagine is that the wall clay that came off from the houses must have crammed into each and every pore that could be found in my body. Neither do I know how and why I got into the river. Did I jump in because of the enormous heat? Did I somehow crawl out of the house that suddenly collapsed, unconsciously walk along the river that flowed on the other side of the road and accidentally trip and fall in? I have no clue. Obviously, the air was full of dust and was impossible to see anything at all.

When the dust in the air started to settle down and I started to see my surroundings clearly again, I realised that my left hand was full of grime.

“That’s strange. I took a bath last night. I washed my face this morning too so why is my hand so dirty?”

I repeatedly washed my face in the river but even more grime came off on my hands. Now I noticed there was hair, lots of burned hair from my head mixed with the grime on my hands.

I could not believe what was happening to me. When I put my hand behind my ear, I found that the back half of my head was burnt and there was no hair left. Gradually, I started to feel pain from my neck toward the left side of my head. After I crawled up the stonewall along the river bank and stood by the road, I was again shocked by my own appearance. My clothes were burned to rags, my gaiters (leggings) were burnt into so many strips that they dangled like centipede legs. All that remained of my jacket were traces of the seam and I could see my shirt underneath. Leaving my white fundoshi (traditional Japanese underpants, shape similar to what a sumo wrestlers wear), my bare legs were exposed from my hip down to where I wrapped my lower gaiters. It looked as if it were burned with sulfuric acid.

The houses in the area had all been smashed instantaneously and that enabled me to see all the way towards the Hiroshima station (*8) with my own eyes. Fire was everywhere and strangely enough, the telephone poles that stood along the road were burning from top to bottom but only the east side of the pole was in flame.

There was a woman screaming for help, trapped under a demolished house. I saw a man who managed to crawl out of a smashed house but he had broken his legs. Unable to walk, he was crawling and begging like mad for someone to help his child trapped under his house. A wagon had flipped sideways and beside it was a horse barely breathing. Half of his body looked smooth from the burn and his eyes were wide open, with a milky white colour which must have been caused by the strong ray. There were people burnt and hurt by broken glass. No one seemed to have a clue where they should be heading. Simply from mass psychology, they may have unconsciously felt that they needed to leave as far away from the city as possible and the crowd started to flood toward Jimbo-cho (Jimbo town).

The grime in my hands in the river actually turned out to be skin burned off my face. Half of my face turned red and I cannot tell you how unendurable it gets when salt water soaks into your skin. The pain is indescribable and I just could not stand it. Trying to suppress the pain, I joined the crowd and the next thing I knew, I was running with the rest of them.

On my way, I bumped into a school friend of mine who was helping the relief group at the Kami-Shinonome-cho (*9) (Dambara Hihode-cho *10) area and I reached the temporary building of the School of Technology (*11) in Shinonome-cho. Of course the building was there but the bomb blast had blown away every window there was in the building.

My friend, Ogawa-kun, took myself and Sakoda-kun, who was badly injured by roof tiles to the town clinic in Jimbo. We did get to the clinic but there was an endlessly long queue waiting to be treated. There must have been at least three hundred of them. There was no knowing when our turn would come.

My face was red with the burn and the salt water enhanced the sting so furiously that I could not stay still. The back of my knee and my lower leg, which was covered by my gaiter, felt heavy and dull. I suddenly realised that leaving the part that was covered with fundoshi underpants, the entire back thigh was bare naked, burnt and had formed a blister. All the water had gathered to the back of my thighs. Realising how widely burnt I was, it was then for the first time that I acknowledged the seriousness of my burns.

No matter how long we queued, it did not seen as though our turn would come. Not being able to stand it any longer, I walked away from the queue and peeped into the doctor’s office. Doctors and nurses themselves were hurt by broken glass. They were treating the patients wearing their blood stained white uniform with hachimaki towels wrapped around their heads. The treatment they provided was pathetic. They were simply spreading “akachin” (Mercurochrome) on the wound. A small town clinic, which is normally equipped with medicine to cure just one or two patients, was now forced to look after three hundred seriously burnt patients. Realistically speaking, what could you expect but to appreciate even a dab of Mercurochrome on your wound.

“I must do something about this” Trying to endure the pain, I was walking back and forth when a lady living in my neighbourhood kindly brought me a teacup full of natane oil (colzaoil).

“Put this on your face”. I sneaked into the doctor’s office, got some cotton wool and spread the oil over my red face. The stinging pain that had been troubling me all this time disappeared, as if it had never hurt in the first place. It felt so soothing, I was finally able to relax for awhile.

I had to find a way to get back to my boarding house in Yokogawa. The centre of the city was burning. What route should I take to get to Yokogawa? We decided to first climb up to some place high so that we could observe the condition of the city. Ogawa-kun, Sakoda-kun and I climbed up to the top of Shinonome Jinjya (Shinonome shrine *12). We looked down but the city was covered with smoke and we could not see anything at all. It was around this time when once every few minutes, we repetitively heard enormous explosions. Some said that it was a time bomb so it was dangerous to go into the city. Others said that the arsenal at Hijiyama (*13) was hit and was continuously exploding.

(From this time on, my father and his friends went their ways on their own.)

As the loud sound of explosions started to fade away, I started to feel hungry. I cannot just wait forever. I decided to go as far as I could and started to head toward the city. First of all, I returned to Taisho Bridge, the place where I assumed I was hit by the bomb. I looked around for my lunchbox, schoolbag, hat and other belongings but they were nowhere to be found. I did however find a couple of pages from my notebook scattered around the entrance of the demolished house, a place where I confronted the thought of death and asked myself, “Is this the end?” This was how I was able to find the place where I was actually hit by the atomic bomb.

Whatever the case, I once again had to climb up to someplace high where I could look down on the city. Unless I did that, I wouldn’t know which way to walk. This time, I decided to climb Hijiyama. On my way, I found the houses in Dambara-cho all demolished and the roads were totally blocked. I had no choice but to walk on top of the roof tiles of the smashed houses to reach the foot of the mountain.

Eight sixteen AM, when the atomic bomb was dropped, was a time when housewives were cleaning up in the kitchen after their children had left for school and husbands were heading for work. People who were injured in their houses had no burns but were injured by cuts from broken glass or were trapped under demolished houses. Not knowing where to escape, thousands of people with broken bones and injuries headed for Hijiyama.

Looking down from the top of the mountain, you could see that the fire had caught up from the west foot of the mountain and the flames now covered over two thirds of the mountain. There must have been several thousands who escaped from the west side. Women not knowing what to do could only walk back and forth, worried about their family and relatives.

What I saw from the top of the mountain was simply living hell. There are no words to describe what I saw. What I found was how helpless humans are in the face of the atomic bomb and at the same time how enormously powerful the atomic bomb was. It seemed as though people were like a string of ants being stepped on and smashed.

Being driven away by fire, there were people with broken bones, not being able to walk, and crawling up the mountain. Their trousers were torn and their bare bottoms were bleeding from cuts and bruises. There was a family of four who were probably outdoors exposed to the radiation of the atomic bomb. The wife was supposedly wearing a black dress, judging from the way she was burnt. Her whole body was burnt, her face was disfigured and no one could identify who she was. While struggling on the dirt suffering from the agony of pain, she must have smashed the blisters and they had all gone red. Her whole body was covered with dirt and mud, which seemed like a “kinakomochi” (rice cake powered with soybean flour). By her side, there was the Father who was also very badly burnt, embracing his burnt child trying to calm him down from crying and screaming from the pain. On the other hand, it seemed to be the older son lying on his father’s lap, too weak to cry, with his whole body burnt and barely breathing. After seeing this scene, I came to my senses and wondered what would happen if my own family was in this situation. All of a sudden, I was shocked by the horrible terror of what an atomic bomb could do.

Under normal circumstances, if I were the only one burnt, I would no doubt have no strength to walk on my own. I would probably be considered a severely injured patient and be taken away on a stretcher. (I was burnt from my neck up, on the left and backside of the upper legs.) However, no one was in a normal condition, and compared with the others, my injury was nothing. It seemed as though my injury was only a scratch. I remember walking, thinking that I should be thankful that my injury was not serious and that I was fortunate in this misfortune.

I continued to walk where there was less smoke, trying to get back to my dormitory in Yokogawa. We arrived in front of the “Senbai Kohsha” (Tobacco and Salt Public Corporation *14). This was where injured soldiers were issuing calamity certificates and supplying kanpan (hard biscuits).

“No matter how you look at it, it is dangerous. Please do not stay in the city. I will issue you calamity certificates, so please take the hard biscuits with you and take shelter as far away from the city as possible.” With the instructions given by the soldier, I gave up trying to go back to my dormitory in Yokogawa and started walking towards Fukuyama, my hometown. I kept on walking, thinking it was a shame I had left my new “tsumeiri” uniform that my father had bought for me, which I had only worn once hanging in my dorm.

Obviously, it didn’t seem as though any trains would be running in Hiroshima station. I would have to walk to Mukainada (*15). I clearly remember all the windows of Toyo Industries (*16) were broken. I do not know the exact place but near the Mukainada station, the relief team from Kure naval base (*17) had been dispatched and was treating the injured, in a truck with a 10 litre can filled with “Rivanol”, a yellow ointment for burns. It seemed as though God had come to the rescue. I queued in the long line of casualties and decide to receive treatment.

The left side of my face was covered with gauze applied with “Rivanol” and then wrapped my head like a headband. From then on, I had to see with one eye. As with my left upper leg, it was covered with gauze applied with “Rivanol” and wrapped around my left with a bandage.

The quickest way to catch the train was to walk along the railroad track. There would be no way you would get lost, so I started to walk along the track. In the beginning the bandages were getting in the way, gradually slipping down to the knee, but there was no time to be bothered by that.

After some time, far ahead I saw smoke that seemed to be coming out from a train. As long as I could get to Kaita-ichi (*18) it seemed the trains were running there. Naturally, I was walking quicker. Even though the most important thing was to catch the train, the bandages dangling around my knees were bothering me. Though I had them wrapped around my legs, I took them off and I simply concentrated on walking ahead. For the last few hundred meters, I ran as fast as I could and jumped on the last car of the train puffing with smoke.

A few minutes after I jumped on to the train, with no time to settle down, the train started to run with the sound of the chu chu.

This was the first return train after the atomic bomb was dropped. The departure time was 6:30 PM.  My wristwatch had been soaked in salt water and had stopped at 8:16AM. Ten hours had passed since then.

Whatever the case, I could get away from the centre of the city and ‘go home’. With great relief and exhaustion from what I had been through all day, I lay myself down on the seat. I dozed off but only for a moment. I jumped awake with the pain in my inner thigh, which felt as though my flesh was being torn away. While dozing off on a two-seater, I must have unconsciously tossed over. The pain emerged when the flesh of my inner thigh was pulled, which got stuck on to the fabric that covered the seat.

I hoped I could get back to Fukuyama soon. I wonder how many times I sat down but the next moment was standing up. When I sat down, I could stay that way for only a minute or two. Every time I did, my flesh and the seat cover would always stick together and was unable to stay in my seat for a long time. Normally, the train would only take about four hours to run that distance, but today, it didn’t run that quickly. After five and a half-hours, it arrived in Fukuyama in the middle of the night.

I walked for about ten minutes to get to the clock shop run by my classmate’s father. My classmate’s name was Aikawa-kun. As it was hot in the summer and with the air-raid alarm warning, his father and even his mother were out with their neighbors cooling down at the “suzumi-dai” bench.

“Mr. Aikawa, can you let me borrow your bicycle?” Even though I spoke, he could not recognise me with the bandage covering my eye.

“Who are you anyway?”

“It’s Kobatake. I was hit by a bomb in Hiroshima-city and came back just now on the first return train. It’s an enormous bomb. In the train, there was someone who said that it might be an aerial torpedo, but as soon as we saw the light flash, I ended up with these burns. I didn’t get burned where I was covered with white clothes. I think people who were indoors were smashed under wrecked houses and broke their bones rather than ending up with burns.” I spoke on a little bit more, borrowed a bicycle and quickly headed toward home. (Approximately 30 minutes)

I stuck my hand through the side of the gate to unlock the bolt of the entrance gate that is so familiar to me. I leaned the bicycle beside the gate and hurriedly knocked on the front door. I remember up to this point, but from then on, I do not remember a thing.

According to my mother, she awoke to a voice calling,

“Okaasan” “Okaasan” (Mother, Mother). She realised immediately that it was my voice. She hurried to the entrance and as soon as she opened the door, I collapsed at her feet.

“Toyoyasu” “Toyoyasu”, my mother called out and hearing her, my father, grandfather and siblings all came running.

“What’s happened? Get a grip of yourself”, they shouted and it became a turmoil. As they held me in their arms, I spoke out,

“They got me”, and passed out making a hissing sound. They hadn’t a clue what had happened. In the middle of the night, in the countryside in the middle of war, there was no doctor that they could take me to, so they decided to let me sleep for the time being.

Though hurt, being young and with sheer force of will, it took me 14 to 15 hours from morning but I finally reached home. With the feeling of relief and fatigue, I must have fallen asleep while leaning on the front door. Whatever the case, I do not remember a thing.

The following morning, I was taken to Hino Iin (Hino Clinic) in the next village. The doctor’s treatment was simplicity itself. He applied “galvanization” melted in with olive oil to the red flesh. He was more interested in how it was when the atomic bomb was dropped and he went on and on, showering me with questions, “And then what happened?”

From that evening, I started to get high fever. No matter if the doctor examined me, I would continue to have a fever around 40C every day. I started to talk in delirium. With the high fever, the medicine for the burn that I received from the doctor would dry up so quickly that the surface of the skin started to look like a lid. The pus underneath was building up. Because I would suffer from this and unconsciously try to scratch it, there was no way of leaving me unattended even for a moment. My mother’s nursing started, twenty-four hours, no sleep, non-stop.

The next day, on the eighth of August, the entire Fukuyama-city was destroyed by fire. Suffering from high fever, I slightly remember seeing a soft glow light up the shoji screen and thought to myself, “It’s burning.”

With the unusual smell and the blue-ish white pus breaking out from beneath, it seemed as though the red flesh was being scraped off. It seemed as though there was absolutely no cure for this. Of all the many people who came to see me, there was one person who told us to “trust her and try this” and brought along a liquid medicine in a “4-go” (approximately 1.5 pints) bottle. This was actually a bottle with cucumber fluid taken from the stem. Every year after the end of the cucumber season, this lady would cut off the stems of the cucumber that she grew in her farm about 20 to 30 centimeters long and would gather the fluid into beer bottles to make medicines.

“Why would such a thing work?” My father would say, but secretly, without him knowing, my mother would soak this onto cotton gauze in the middle of the night and apply it on the wound. Her son who had been suffering from high fever and talking in delirium all of a sudden started to sleep comfortably as soon as she applied the medicine. “Since he has been suffering so much, I don’t care how his face will turn out. As long as he lives, I do not care.” Seeing the sick sleeping so peacefully, my mother decided to use this liquid.

Having a fever as high as 40C, the cotton gauze would dry up in a matter of half an hour. However, surprisingly enough the gauze would completely suck the blue-ish white pus and the wound would heal without leaving any scar. In addition to that, it helped lower the fever and the sick who had been suffering would start to sleep comfortably.

Since the gauze had to be replaced every thirty minutes, a moderate amount of cucumber liquid would not be enough. When we were about to run out of the 1.5 pint bottle, my mother thought of an idea. If this fluid was taken from the stem of cucumbers, cucumber itself should work. After grating the cucumbers with a “daikon oroshi” (Japanese radish grater), she squeezed out the fluid and used them in place of them. She saw no bad effects from this and it felt confident that she could go along with this idea. Later, replacing every thirty minutes would be difficult to continue. As a last resort, she placed the grated cucumbers onto the gauze and applied them directly to the wound. Indeed, in this way, it did not dry up as easily as before. Surprisingly, we also found that all the pus would be sucked into the cucumber and it was much more effective than before. In this way, thanks to my mother’s original cucumber remedy, I was able to recover completely without a scar. Without this cucumber treatment, I might have needed help of an orthopedist. I wish to some day request an investigation into the efficacy of cucumbers in modern science.

High fever persisted for two weeks but around the 20th of August, I was able to move about. Until the end of September, I spent half my days in bed but there was a strange phenomenon. When I would go out in the sun, I became feverish. Around that time, we heard talks about people who were wounded in Hiroshima or even people who went to Hiroshima to look for their parents or siblings, who had come back without any burns or scars but would die one after another. This made my relatives very worried.

Eventually, I had a check-up at Okayama (*23) Medical University. Results showed that my white corpuscle count had fallen to about 2,100 and I was told to eat as many vegetables as I could. I was served scallions (nira) every morning, lunch and dinner. To find “nira” became my grandmother’s daily chore. It seems she searched far and wide in the mountains for them. In October, I was finally able to see my face in the mirror. The fact is, every single mirror in the house had been hidden. This was from my mother’s consideration. I assume that before it healed, the sight of my face must have been quite hard to bear. The face that I saw for the first time in so many months looked as red as if it were a monkey’s bottom.

By November, the fever was gone and I was able to go back to school again.