3. My Wife and I, Buried Alive in the A-bombing

My background

I was born in Katahara-cho, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture as the first son to my parents, Kiyoshi and Hisa Kawai. I had one sister, much older than me in my memory. My parents lived on farming. I was a frail child and had serious illnesses twice, at the age of five and seven. Later my mother told me that it was meningitis. I could not go to school because of that, even elementary school.

Since my father died when I was four, I was taken to my married sister and raised until thirteen. Then, the sister also died. When I was going to return to my mother, I learned that she had been remarried. So, I went to Osaka, kind of a runaway. The police chief in Osaka I turned to for help introduced a barbershop for me to work as a live-in worker. I stayed there till twenty.

Since then I changed jobs many times. When I was 27, I got married to Mie Hozumi, 20, and opened my own barbershop. Finally I was settled down. Luckily my business thrived and we had two sons, Heiichi and Heiji. However, my wife' s cousin opened a barbershop right next to ours, which naturally led us to rivalry. Being emotionally unpleasant, we moved to Hiroshima when our eldest son was three, and I worked for many different barbers as an employee.

When 35, I opened my own barbershop at Nishikanon-machi and kept it going for fifteen years with no particular problems. The Pacific War increasingly intensified and our eldest son went to Okinawa as a soldier in 1945. The second son entered Manchuria Foundation College, leaving us alone with our still operating barbershop. Everything was in short supply in those days, food in particular, so we had to keep ourselves busy to get something to eat, either rice for vegetable-mixed porridge or edible grass for dumplings.

Hellish picture

August 6, 1945, it was clear from early in the morning. At 8:15 with an enormous flash and roaring sound, our house collapsed. My wife, Mie and I were buried under the rubble. A piece of bamboo in our house stuck in my left eye. Despite the severe pain, I managed to crawl out in desperation.

I rescued a pregnant woman and her child who happened to have come for haircuts. Almost all the houses in the neighborhood were also collapsed and I pulled out more than ten people out of the debris. An old man looking familiar to me was clinging to a pillar and crying for help. I went for him and I was about to escape holding him in my arms. It was when that I stepped on a nail that pierced through my foot to the instep. This tormented me for a long time. Since no medicine was available in those days, I dressed the wound only with Mercurochrome.

Caring for my painful eye and foot, I fled with my wife, holding her hand, toward the riverbed of the Fukushima River for shelter. On the way I saw a devastating picture just like a hell; those who were burned by the heat ray had their skins drooping from shoulder, a mother who couldn' t believe it was her child when a charred figure neared to cling to her crying, “Mom, it' s me. ”

Near the Tenma-cho stop, two streetcars were sitting in which I saw five or six people who were already dead. In an air raid shelter there was somebody who was burned all over and crying for water. But I did not give him water because I knew people were saying that the burned people would die if they drank water. When I returned to see him the following morning, I found he was not breathing any more. I regretted that I hadn' t given him water. Even a sip, I wished I had given him at that time. I blamed myself for a long time.

Around noon of the 6th the area of my house was completely burned down. I could take out nothing, at all, out of my house. That evening on, I slept in the army air raid shelter near the Tenma-cho streetcar railway. Starting from the 8th, together with some soldiers I dug holes around there and buried more than thirty bodies that had been on the street. The stench was so unbearable, I was reminded of a saying, ‘the dead give off a thrusting stench.' There were indeed many bodies floating in the river, not just humans but also cows and horses. Black rain came, because of which many people suffered from skin diseases and caught lice. You could hardly look at them straight.

My left eyesight was lost

We spent about one year in the air raid shelter after the A-bombing. Food was really hard to come by. A small amount of brown rice was rationed which we put in a bottle and poked with a stick to refine. Rice refining was a problem, indeed. Nothing to eat was the hardest part for us and we ate the roots of trees and grass. Around that time we were given onigiri or rice ball as relief food that came from the country, but they were all rotten already. I can never forget the miserable feeling of the time when we had to throw them away into the Fukushima River. Since we did not have running water for quite a while, we were using pumped water. Probably because of that my wife, Mie contracted dysentery and became very weak. Our sympathetic shelter-mates of five or so were kind enough to walk to Ujina to buy medicine. I felt deeply and very thankful.

Later my wife' s lumbago got worse. She has tried many doctors and treatments, but never been cured. I was, too, under the treatment of eye doctor for long, but eventually I lost my left eyesight.

In September 1946, we built a shack in Nishikanon-machi, the site of our former barbershop. At length we could leave the shelter life behind and managed to resume our business.

Our eldest son, Heiichi came back from Okinawa in December 1945, although he was injured on his leg and the second son, Heiji in Manchuria also came back to us at the end of 1946. Although the life was not easy, we felt blessed with the whole family reunited alive. We lived together again. We worked hard anyway under any circumstances, thanks to which our sons grew to be independent and have nice families.

In 1967, my wife and I talked and decided to sell our property, the house and land where we had lived nearly 40 years. We came to live in a rented house in Funairi-minami. As we were increasingly anxious about our old age and future, we had discussion with our sons, but they had reasons of each own for being unable to take us. We therefore went to the City Office to ask about the A-bomb nursing home.

My wife and I entered the Home

We became residents of the Home on January 16, 1974. We are given a room for a couple and we have been free from worry ever since. In case of illness, there is the Funairi Hospital in the vicinity, so we feel at ease. We are grateful that everything is well taken care of and each day we are living in gratitude. I' d like to live long with my wife, the life we never have twice.

Written by Heizo Kawai (85)

The place of my A-bomb exposure
Kanon-machi, inside the house (1.3km from the hypocenter)
Acute symptom of those days
Injury with bamboo sticks in my left eye
The loss in my family