The villager's note and testimony / People of Hesaka village

7. Memories before and after the A-bombing

My house was near the Hiroshima Military Ordnance Depot, so there was a fear of an air-raid attack by the enemy. As the underground water level was high around the area, it was impossible to make an air-raid shelter. Therefore we decided to evacuate my mother, my first daughter and my aunt, who was staying with us then, to some village in the northern part of Hiroshima Prefecture. One of the section chiefs had planned to evacuate to Hesaka, but as he changed his plan, we were able to evacuate there instead. Hesaka was six km away from Hiroshima. When we started to prepare moving, we were worried about how to carry our property. On being told that I could borrow a large cart from the prefectural office, we applied for its borrowing, but as too many people wanted to borrow a two-wheeled cart, we had to wait until our turn came. We asked a keeper of a livery stable of Hesaka to carry our big belongings after we settled down, so my wife and I decided to take various small items by ourselves. We packed empty 1.8-liter bottles in a box to take them with us, as they were precious those days. When our turn to borrow a cart came and we took it home, we were so happy and felt as if we were kings. We fully loaded onto that cart as much furniture as we could and left home around five in the evening. Until we passed the railroad crossing on the Ujina Line and near Hiroshima Station, the load kept in shape, but it gradually began collapsing, and we stopped to reload it now and then. By turns we repeatedly pulled and pushed the cart blaming each other, “ You have to pull more strongly, ” or “Push more. ” We were never worried about the air-raid. We kept walking with the help of the moonlight. We used all our force. When we arrived at the goal after six hours, we were relieved all the more because we had undergone such a succession of hardships.

Soon after we settled at the farmhouse in Hesaka, we started to cultivate its yard and planted sweet potatoes without the owner's permission in the yard. We tried eating soft leaves of potatoes. Come to think of it, the yard of the farmhouse was the farmer's workplace, so the owner must have thought that we were such shameful evacuees. Commuting by train from where we evacuated to was not easy. It took only 15 minutes to Hiroshima Station, but getting on a very crowded train itself was very hard even for men, still more for women. In the tunnel we were covered by soot and smoke because bad coal was burned, and when the train got out of the tunnel, many passengers began coughing. Once getting off the train at the platform, everyone would make a rush to join the line to wait for streetcars. One day I barely held on to the last car of the train and fell from it because of my exhaustion while it was running at full speed. I narrowly escaped from death.

The community meeting of the town was often held, and the subjects of our discussion there were about labor service, like the digging of pine roots in the woods of our town to take out oil, chopping wood, constructing the roads and some other work.

One Sunday morning, perhaps an enemy plane came with a whirr in heavy fog and scattered leaflets to advise Japan to surrender because Japan's defeat was near. The fliers were floating in the pond. The leaflets were called dentan (a propaganda leaflet) in military terms. We could tell that the plane was the enemy's because of its buzzing. Each time the enemy plane came, I quickly fled to under the girder bridge of Geibi Line with my four-year-old first son. I was accustomed to automatically taking refuge in an air-raid shelter when I was in danger of being attacked.

However unlike me, the farmers in Hesaka were never frightened by the air attack, but dared to keep working on their farms. I felt at ease there because of the peaceful scenery of their farm village, the farmers' simple-hearted kindness, both their physical and spiritual help, as well as the relief that I could avoid the fear of air-raids. These feelings made me all the more attached to that village, careful not to cause trouble to the villagers and resolved to willingly do anything that I could do to help them while I was there.

At that time I was Assistant Section Chief. On August 5, I was suddenly called by the Chief and told to come to his office by 9:30 the next day for a talk about a personnel change. However, on that day I was on duty for the demolition work, and asked him to change the date. He told me to ask someone to take my place, so I told that to the Chief of the General Affairs Section. Someone must have taken my place, but I neither knew who did it nor tried to know that. The Chief said that we did not have to go to office before 9:30, because most of the employees were evacuated to the outskirts of the city and came to office by train, so they had to wait for streetcars in long lines at the stop in front of Hiroshima Station in the rush hour. They had to come to the office from distant places, and he thought it cruel to be strict with the office-going time.

August 6 was a clear day. I headed for the station along a narrow footpath between rice fields, looking up at the white clouds suggestive of the scorching heat of summer. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a bag which was hand-made in the battlefield was hanging from my shoulder. I took the commuter train as usual and arrived at Hiroshima Station. The line of the people who were waiting for a streetcar seemed longer than usual, so looking at the line on my right side I decided to visit a drugstore run by my relatives near the Enkobashi-cho stop. When I was asked my opinion previously as to whether they should keep running the store though the owner had been drafted, I answered that Hiroshima would surely be air-raided, and the area around Hiroshima Station would be the most dangerous, so they should evacuate. This time I visited them to see if they had followed my advice. I was relieved to know they had evacuated, and had rented their shop to a watchmaker. The master of the shop decorated watches on the display shelf. I happened to look at my watch to find it was ten to eight. I did not have to go to the office before 9:30, so I went to the barber's two or three houses away to have my beard shaved because it had grown too long. The barber had drawn the curtain with no sign of opening the shop. I asked him to let me stay inside until he opened the shop. He said yes, and after a few minutes he opened and began to work on me. I was his first customer. Then people came one after another until the shop became full. While I was sitting facing the mirror, the air-raid warning sounded and was cancelled soon. Seventy percent of my beard had been shaved.

At that moment I felt a shock like I had never experienced even in the battlefield. Instantly I thought I was hit directly by a bomb. I slipped out of the chair and faced down in the center of the shop. I felt the house was collapsing. I thought I should not be dejected and became full of fight to support this building with my own body. I was ready for the shop to collapse, firmly closing my fist, clamping my teeth and bracing up my body. At last the house collapsed. In a flash I was badly hit on the backbone with a thing like a sinker and groaned. It became pitch dark. When I found myself alive, I regained energy. I tried to crawl out of the darkness as soon as possible and looking around slowly located the exit. I saw a stream of light and intuitively knew that the light came from the road and decided to escape in that direction. I felt an acute pain on my backbone, but almost forgot it once I started to move. I heard people crying, “Help me!” here and there, so I thought I had to do the same, and cried, “Help! ” When I got out and stood up, I was dazzled by the glare of the light of the mid-summer sun. My shirt was stained with the blood from the injury on my forehead when I faced down quickly. I wondered if I should go home or go to the office, vacantly looking at the city which turned into piles of rubbish. Feeling it was my responsibility, I decided to go to the office. I started toward Kojin Bridge. I felt pain on my badly-hit backbone, and if I moved the upper part of my body, I felt as if I was struck by electricity down to the tips of my feet. So I walked with my arms fixed to my body. On the way I met a woman and was spoken to. She asked me if I had a first-aid bag. When I answered no, she asked if I had a cigarette. So I took a cigarette out of the pocket of my pants and offered it to her. Then she frayed it and placed it on my wound. Then she took a bandage out of her first-aid bag and bound up my wound. I do not remember her name, age or figure at all although she was so kind amidst the confusion. I have never forgotten her kindness, and am eager to meet her to express my gratitude. One motivation for writing this story is that I was so impressed with her kindness and wanted to emphasize that kindness was valuable when it was voluntarily done.

Although I headed for Kojin Bridge, the central part of the city was wrapped in darkness from the cloudy sky, as if it were just before a shower. I saw no trains around there. I saw a truck fully loaded with victims running toward the station as if it were escaping from something. I realized it was impossible to go to the office, so decided to go home immediately. However, I recalled I had left my bag with the seal, first-aid supplies and other important things in the barber's shop, and went there with my last hope. Under the completely collapsed house there, I heard someone crying for help. I tried to help him, but I could not bend down, even though I could get up to walk. To my regret I had no way but to tell him that soldiers would come to help him soon, and left him dishearteningly. I headed for Hiroshima Station along the streetcar track. On the way I saw a man trying to put out a fire throwing water from a cistern with a bucket. The fire had caught the sunscreen on the second floor of his house which had been saved from the collapse. I was watching it for some time but the water did not reach the fire.

Failing to make sure if he succeeded in putting out the fire, I came to a main street leading to Kojin Bridge. A big bus was loaded with many people, so I shouted and begged together with other injured, to let us get on the bus. It made the bus stop. I felt pain on my backbone, so holding the assistant driver, I narrowly got on without knowing where the bus was going. Passing Atago Railroad Crossing and turning to the left, it arrived at a hospital. So I learned where we had been heading. However, so many patients had already been there that we were all forced to turn away and leave.

I unwillingly went to the house of my fellow soldier, who was a Medical Corpsman, in O machi. His family had been running an absorbent cotton factory. As we were close friends, I had expected him to give me a treatment, but when I saw his house from afar, it was also half collapsed, so I gave up and decided to take a rest in the East Drill Grounds. Burned people wearing rags, who could not be identified between men and women, came to the grounds one after another. Among them I found some acquaintances, but they were also so badly burned that we could not speak to each other at all. Most of them were in a state of lethargy and just kept standing absentmindedly, but when someone suggested that we might be machine-gunned in such a state, everybody left in all directions. I took a mountain path covered with bushes and hurried home step by step, trying carefully not to move the upper part of my body too much. One after another, people overtook me walking fast. On the way I was very thirsty and dropped in at a farmhouse to ask for some water. Beyond the mountain pass there was a plain, expansive, calm village, which made me relaxed. After walking along the Geibi Line and crossing over another pass, I came to Hesaka. I was finally near my home. Going downhill with a light step, I got home around 11:30 in the morning. My wife was surprised to glance at my bandaged figure, but was consoled and delighted to know that I was all right.

In the farmhouse that we evacuated to, the ceiling was thrusted up and the heavy beam was pushed up about three cm, part of which we could see clearly. The dressing table was destroyed. The cabinet and the tea shelf had fallen. The windows were all broken into pieces. The tatami mats were pushed up and there was no room to step. Although this village was six km away from Hiroshima, and there were mountains between them, the situation was disastrous. From this we could imagine how intense the blast was. I quickly lay on my back in bed with my wife's help. I had the injury on my forehead sterilized and had mercurochrome put on it. I knew from my experience in my military life that mercurochrome would surely prevent suppuration. I told my wife about the state of Hiroshima and she told me about that of Hesaka. She said that while looking toward Hiroshima casually, she noticed a huge mass of beautiful light, not of a rainbow, and called our second daughter to tell her to look at that. Then she instantly felt dizzy, and found herself in the tatami room when she came to.

She thought she had to ask a doctor to give me treatment on my injuries as quickly as possible and went to the elementary school used as Hesaka Branch Military Hospital to ask a doctor to examine me. However she found it impossible because there were too many patients. With a suggestion from an acquaintance in Hesaka, she luckily learned about an elderly farmer about 60 years old, who had worked as a bonesetter for 30 years in Hawaii. We were very glad that we would be able to take treatment from him. We planned to go to that bonesetter early next morning. I decided to take a good rest the whole day. When I tried to toss about in bed, I felt severe pain on my backbone.

After a while two soldiers who were badly burned on their faces and upper half of their bodies came to our veranda and asked us to let them take a rest there for a while. My wife sympathized with them for their miserable figures and tried to dress them in bleached cotton undershirts, which she took out of a chest of drawers. As they could not run their injured arms through the sleeves, she unpicked the stitches on the sleeves and the sides of the undershirts, and put them over their shoulders. These elderly soldiers were from Takehara. They had just recently been drafted and while practicing as engineers on the banks of the river without clothes on their upper half of the bodies, they were exposed to the A-bomb. They sometimes had convulsions on their calves, and asked my wife to pull their feet. They needed something to eat on the way home to Takehara. We did not have enough rice, so my wife packed cooked potatoes and a piece of dried cuttlefish in a wood chip lunch box and accompanied them to the station, but she soon came back and took a straw mat to the station for them to sit on while they were waiting for the train.

Before long three military cadets who were badly injured came, because the patients who could not be taken in Hesaka Branch Military Hospital were assigned to stay at the farmhouses which had enough room in the village. They would spend some days for their health in the room next to where I was lying. The three families, including another evacuated family living in the outhouse, decided to offer bedclothes, mosquito nets, pillows and other things to them. My wife was in charge of tending the three besides me. She diligently worked through thick and thin without showing any sign of fatigue. The farm family which accepted us as evacuees consisted of a woman, her son and daughter. The children, who were middle school students, had not come home even in the afternoon, which made their mother worried. But one after another they came back safe late in the evening. They came home late because they had taken a long way around. Their mother was so happy. We sometimes heard the sound of fanning of the three patients in the next room, but not a bit of their voices. The night went on quietly. Looking up at the ceiling which had been pushed up by the blast, I thought over many things. What on earth was the bomb that completely destroyed Hiroshima in an instant? What would happen to us if this kind of bomb should be used again? All the Japanese people would be killed. How terrible it would be! I wished the war would end as quickly as possible. I had not the slightest idea what had happened to my co-workers and relatives, though I heard the sad news of the deaths of people close to me one after another.

The next morning came and my wife visited Mr. K., the bonesetter. He had heard that his only son was exposed to the A-bomb and was about to go to Hiroshima to search for him. My wife hopelessly returned home after she asked him to examine me the next day. Soon after that, my wife's brother's wife disconsolately visited us on foot. She came to tell us that her husband died about 1:00 pm on the 7th, in spite of treatment after he arrived at his home in Danbara-cho late at night. He had worked at a steel mill in Hiroshima and had engaged in the demolition work near the prefectural offices as a leader of the employees. During the work most of the employees were killed instantly. He was burned but survived and took a little rest in the nearby river. He tried to climb up the bank but the stone wall was too hot for him to climb up, so he waited until the wall became cool and climbed up and headed for his own house. His face was so badly burned and swollen that they could not endure gazing at it. My wife and her brother's wife embraced each other and cried their hearts out.

On the 8th my wife visited Mr. K., but again he was out to search for his son, so she came back disappointed. Early morning on the fourth day, she visited him again and asked him to come to see me. Fortunately she could bring him to me. He examined my backbone and said that I would recover soon. He told my wife to bring a strong man. She brought a military officer with shoulder straps of Captain. Mr. K. and the officer pulled my body to stretch it and Mr. K. pressed the place of dislocation strongly three times. I felt severe pain each time, but at the third press the dislocation was corrected, which I could confirm with my own hand. Mr. K. said that the condition of my body was as if the central pillar of the house had shaken and that there was a fear that any physical trouble might happen at any time, but we did not have to be too worried unless I had another disease. His words encouraged me very much. I was very happy to learn that I would be as healthy as before. I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr. K. for his generosity.

Because of many mosquitoes and flies in the farmhouse, we hung up the mosquito nets all day. The patients with serious diseases in our next room sometimes went out on the porch to fan themselves. We never heard them speaking out. Medical officers and medics patrolled to give treatment every day and applied ointment to the patients in the next room. Every time they put tincture of iodine on my injuries. The pain on my backbone was eased day by day since then, and even when I tossed about in bed, I did not feel so much pain. One after another, patients visited a practitioner of moxibustion, who were staying in the room of the outhouse. It was said white blood cells would increase by moxibustion.

After a week, the patients in the next room were going back to their hometown without taking a proper treatment. My wife and the woman of the farm house went to the station to see them off. Gazing after them, I felt some loneliness, as if they were leaving on their last journey. After they left, we put away the bedclothes and other things which we had lent to them, but decided to throw away the foam pillow with strong stink.

I moved to the room where they had stayed. We made temporary repairs to the ceiling which had been pushed up by the blast, but the sky was still seen through some of the cracks. We wanted to paper the broken windows and fusuma, but it was not easy to get the paper for them. So I decided to use against my will, the paper from musical scores for utai that my father had treasured. It looked very elegant, but I felt guilty to my father. In those days I became able to go to a bathroom by myself, which made the inside of the house seem bright and spacious. However, quite strangely, I began to feel an ache in my teeth which had no trouble. The part I scratched when mosquitoes bit suppurated.

One day an employee of my section visited me suddenly. He looked surprised to see that I was not sick. He said that my name was recorded among those who instantly died. That was because I had no way to report to the Prefectural Office that I had survived. He told me that the section did not function well because the Chief of the section did not come to office due to his first son's instant death, seven engineers of the section were instantly killed and many employees were seriously injured. He urged me to come to the office as soon as possible to save that confused situation.

The next day I began to practice walking. I decided to walk farther little by little, leaning on my stick. I also practiced riding a bicycle in the garden, and knew intuitively that there was something abnormal with my body since I needed a lot of labor when I pushed a bicycle even on a gentle slope. On August 15, I heard on my bed that the Emperor announced that Japan would surrender to the Allied Forces accepting the Potsdam Declaration. I was overjoyed by the end of war clapping my hands. I believe all who experienced the horror of the A-bombing were extremely happy. We were delighted because Japan did not fall, and also because we were set free from the misery and horror of war and peace would prevail.

After two weeks I hardly felt severe pain any more where my backbone was dislocated, though it felt stiffened. I decided to try going to work, on the condition I would take a rest when I had some trouble in my affected body.

(An excerpt from the privately published memorandum “Memories before and after the A-bombing”)

Kazuhiko Harada( an employee at Hiroshima Prefectural Offices)