28. The Demise of the City of Hiroshima, 2 a.m.

Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe and other major cities in Japan were targeted everyday by the bombers. After Okinawa was fallen it was not unusual that the military district, Hiroshima and Kure areas were air raided two or three times a day by the bombers that flew from Kyushu area.

I belonged to the electric section of the weapon manufacture factory, Asahi Weaponry Co. in Minamikanon-machi. Skilled workers, students as well as girls volunteer corps, they were all with us working hard in devotion day and night. Till victory, we were all determined. My wife and I lived alone in a company house in Minamikanon-machi. We had no children. She was busy everyday working for the national defense women' s association, eagerly defending the home front. We didn' t have a single drop of rain after July 16 and rice paddies and fields were dried like a desert. Heat seemed to have penetrated into the deep down the soil and the sun shined mercilessly day after day. The morning of August 6 was no exception and I felt as if all the sunlight was on us.

Nothing but misery…

Breaking the morning tranquility of the 6th, an air-raid warning was sounded all of a sudden. I put on my air-raid protective hood and left home for work with caution. As the warning was lifted, I was relaxing myself taking off my hood. 8:15. We heard no roar of planes, which means no alarm at all, and there came a sudden, flabbergasting bombing which extinguished all on the earth leaving not a single thing. How can it be expressed; misery, sorrow, or what? Agonizing cries, fire attack, water attack, blood hell or gas attack? No words could possibly describe it. My wife and I were lucky enough to have only light injuries in the very swirl.

That morning I went into the office as I was asked to write a good luck message on a national flag for a youth of the lumber factory, who was called for the military service. That moment, there came a flash as if super high-tension electricity had short circuit. And a really weird sound followed; a rumble or roar, or the sound of collapsing the factory building, anyway it was an enormous sound. During the time I had no time to escape to the shelter. “Damn you, the enemy! ” I thought. Windows fly. Roof tiles fly. Things that don' t fly break down, tear and collapse. Not a thing was left standing without damage in the factory. I had minor injuries from the glass fragments. The medical room was filled with those injured, light or serious. Most people had injuries on their heads and hands.

The factory had been in full swing trying to achieve higher productivity where young boy workers, students, volunteer corps, everybody was devoted themselves to their work. And what' s it now, five minutes after? The factory building broke down. The shafts that had been spinning twisted like candies, and those working underneath machines, students and volunteer corps, fell down and injured leaving not a single person unaffected. Surprisingly, however, nobody including young girls of first and second year students raised a scream. I was furious and tension high. “You' ll see, soon, damn! ” I thought. Our company president, stouthearted Mr. Kuwabara rushed to our factory from the main office in Jigozen. He was appalled with the totally changed factory picture; a real mess. Anyway I made the first and second year dormitory students evacuate, then hurried home myself.

My wife and I, happy for our having been safe

It' s about 20-minute walk from my company to my house in Minamikanon-machi, but I remembered nothing how, with which way I reached home. There, what I saw was devastation; all the structures, house after house, were thoroughly destroyed and fires enveloped the areas of Kanonhon-machi and Minamikanon 1-chome. Next to our house was a heat-treatment shop, yet it was not caught by fire. It was strange, but could have been god' s mercy. Where did the people of our neighbor' s association evacuate? I saw nobody around there. My wife and I had agreed that in case of emergency we' d escape to the field down there, not to the shelter. But I found out that she, as a member of the women' s defense team, was engaged in a relief work at the Shinshugakuryo, a dormitory. I was relieved. She had a minor injury when she pulled a neighbor, elderly woman out of the fallen wall, but that didn' t stop her from working for the injured. We were glad that both of us were safe.

The city was a sea of fire filled with mounting smokes, collapsing sounds of tall structures and unceasing tearing and roaring sounds. From Higashikanon and Nishikanon to the Second Higher Elementary School or to its dormitory, people were moving; those who could, walked, some helping each other and those who couldn' t were on a cart. Nothing could be more painful; some were burned all over the body with their skin drooping like rags, others swelled all over by burns, unidentifiable even by their parents. Even their voices changed. Amid the heat of fires they, oddly enough, were shivering, saying, “Cold, cold. ” Their faces were smeared with blood, sweat and dust.” Some had broken arms or sprained feet caused by fallen buildings and others had burned hair. Also there were people who fell on the road, unable to move, probably on the way to the dormitory in the field. Some were just calling for water, water. My wife and I gave water and treatment to those people and carried them to the dormitory frantically. Soon, however, medicine ran out and even worse, the tap water stopped. We, too, were exhausted mentally as well as physically, so we took shelter into a safe field. Black rain began to fall. I suspected that it was intentional; “drop oil, then set fire”, something like that. Around this time the city was engulfed with flames, the rivers turned to boiling waters on which dead fish were floating. So I learned later. Among the people who fled to the river, most of those who took the way toward the central part of the city died. Due to the continuing sunny weather, the rivers had less water, which might have something to do with it.

Couldn' t wait for the dawn

I felt as if ten years had passed in one day. When I pulled myself together, at length, I felt hunger and exhaustion, but there was neither food nor water. Together with the neighbor' s association people who still remained there, we spent overnight on the eastern roadside. Moans of the seriously injured were heard from the Second Higher Elementary School. Young children frantically cried for their mothers, and mothers desperate cried for their children. Fires became rampant in the evening and the city was filled with terrible noise of tearing and blazing, and roaring sounds resembled those of flood or typhoon. Nobody spoke and everybody had a long, sleepless night waiting for a dawn. It was a miserable, dark night. We were all half-fainted due to the hunger and exhaustion.

My wife and I, however, were impatient. Rather than waiting for the dawn, we decided to set out to search for Mr. and Mrs. Hashimoto, my wife' s parents in Zaimoku-cho. It was 2 am, the middle of the night. They had said ten days before that they' d move to that area and expected us to be of some help. On the early morning of the 6th Mother-in-law had visited us and gone home with some vegetables. And according to our estimation, about the time she got back home, the bomb blasted. They might be waiting for a rescue, having been burned or seriously injured. We had no time to waste, so we set out toward the Kanon Bridge. We somehow made as far as to the Sumiyoshi Bridge, on the way we met a few soldiers, either survived the bombing or came from other place, who gave us some advice. The road to the Sumiyoshi Bridge was not so bad, but beyond there to the Prefecture Office we had a real hard time to go through, usually only a 10-minute walk from the Sumiyoshi bridge to Zaimoku-cho. The seriously injured and dead were in procession. Toward the Prefecture Office the roads were blocked or covered with debris such as electric poles, wires, roof tiles, woods, stones, concrete, iron plates…virtually everything fallen, torn, burnt or smoldering. Burned electric wires were hanging down like a cobweb. We were desperate to move forward on such a hot, debris-mounted road being tormented by fire, smoke, gas, burned woods, bricks and stones.

What a scene it was! The front of the Prefecture Office building was filled with the victims, so many of the dead and seriously injured. Here and there voices asking for water in agony were heard. “Water, water, please”, “Please give me water, soldier. ” Somebody was asking a soldier for a blanket to lie on because she was cold. Behind the bricks, by the sewage, people were sitting on something or on the ground, or lying…how many were there, tens or hundreds of them? Oh, look at this cistern! Packed with people, dead with their heads into the water. And not just this one, that one, and all the other cisterns, too. Lit by the burning fire, the face of a dead body on the ground looked like an egg: The eyeballs popped out, the nose bubbling blood out of the holes, the lips swollen, all the limbs tightly cramped, the body bending backward and the head burned. It was as if a person were in a blaze alive. Yet it gave no hint of having been ablaze. The mere thought of a man having been grilled by blazing fires from both roadsides made me shiver and dizzy. It was terrible, a real misery.

A strange scene, mother and her children

The house of the Hashimoto, an elderly couple, was on the side road of the Seiganji Temple in Zaimoku-cho, a densely populated area, but now it was totally burned down leaving not a single visible landmark. It was dim around there and the road was bad and hot, but in a dented place there was a woman with two children. I was puzzled. How, on earth, did they survive such a raging fire that kept burning since yesterday' s bombing, without getting burned, in this crowded area? She was sitting on a tatami mat; on its right side there was a cistern. One of her children was asleep and the other was awake.

I asked her, “Are you all right? Not hurt? ” She said, “This morning I came to visit the barber here and at that time I cut my wrist with the fragments of mirror.” I saw her wrist bandaged. Then she said, “I can' t move because of the shock. Would you please put out the fire behind me with the water in the cistern? ” I recognized the tatami mat having caught fire and so I extinguished it right away. She was relieved and thanked me.
“Where is the Seiganji Temple? ”
“Right over there. ”
“Are you from somewhere around here? ”
“Right here, Tenjin-machi. ”
“What' s your name? ”
“Watanabe. One of my children has just died. ” The one I thought sleeping had been dead.
“He asked for water, ‘Mom, water, mom, water' , but I could not move myself. Neither my wrist. He died without drinking water. My poor baby! ” “Wait for the daybreak, soldiers will come. Till then keep yourself strong. ” Leaving her there, I wasn' t so sure if the mother and the child would still be alive when soldiers came for rescue.

My feet were very hot as if walking on a heated iron plate. As the air was so hot I had to cover my face with a towel. In such a situation, chances seemed to be slim, but at least we wanted to know whether the Hashimoto were alive or not. However, we had no choice but to turn around, covering our faces with towels. The thought of going back through the hell once again made me sick. We encouraged each other and managed to get to the Sumiyoshi Bridge despite all the difficulties.

How on earth could such a misery exist in this world? On our way to, we saw people sitting on something or on the ground, or lying on one' s arm. However on our way back we noticed that almost all of them were just quiet. Many of them were not breathing any more or ending their lives. Could such a tragedy be allowed to occur in this world? Is there anybody in the world who ever saw this kind of real misery, a colossal tragedy? Even a river ogre would cry.

Neither god nor Buddha

Anyway it gradually dawned. We sat down nearly collapsing on the roadside grass in Minamikanon-machi. Oh, this colossal tragedy! Could it be a dream or an illusion? If so, please disappear and wake me up, I thought. But what' s right before me was real. Looking up at the lightening sky, I wondered what would become of us if Japan lost this war? Is there neither god nor Buddha to save us in this world?

Hiroshima is naked now. The sun, pretending to know nothing about the things happening since yesterday, is shining extra bright this morning. I felt scared as if I had committed a crime by seeing and hearing what I shouldn' t have. I also wondered if it' d be all right that my wife and I were safe and well.

Our house was broken, so we had no roof and no clothes. Those who have a home to return to would go back. We thought of going back to Kure, but I knew things would be much the same there. I thought we would try the best we could here at the roadside in Minamikanon-machi as we had no other choice. Talking into myself, I sat down once again absent-mindedly. Where will those people, trudging with burned arms and legs, go? Are they looking for their parents, or for their loving children? I was distressed not knowing what to do when I thought of their feelings.

A breathing corpse

Today we' ll go to the burnt down ruins of Zaimoku-cho at all cost. We got ourselves ready, taking a water bottle with us. We planned to go via the Kanon Bridge. It' s only a short distance from the place we were to Zaimoku-cho, but we had no idea how and which way we actually walked because there were no distinct roads. We somehow managed to get to a place where the pond of Seiganji Temple was, but there was no trace of Seiganji Temple having stood at all. There should have been some soldiers as well as many other people inside the Ttemple building. They were most likely “cremated” alive. Also, inside the air-raid shelter around there, people must have been steamed and died in agony. At the Hashimoto' s house there was a big pine tree, so we were able to spot the site by a burnt tree. Mr. and Mrs. Hashimoto were seen nowhere. We found, however, the charred wheat in a can they had taken home a few days before and also a burned radio they were using. We were just sorrowful. Although there were a few bodies seen, we couldn' t tell for sure who they were. Judging from the direction, they were less likely of what we were looking for. Their house was two-storied, so we could not deny the possibility of them having been buried. Even so, the soil was too hot for us to do anything right at that time. We put some water at the ruin and pressed our hands together for prayer. Leaving there, we went back to the roadside in Minamikanon-machi.
East, west, north and south,
Everything turned to ashes, even a mountain,
Leaving nothing, not a thing behind

Ah, my wife' s parents have gone and their house, burned out completely. I just wonder why we, my wife and I did survive? I am tired of being alive; too harsh. I don' t feel like doing anything. Now I am nothing but a breathing corpse. My thoughts went back to the old time, Keicho era when the feudal lord Mohri Motonari built a castle here. It' s been 300 years since the time the castle tower was built. Hiroshima, a number one major city in Chugoku district known as a military city, vanished into smoke in an instant.
Who could stand without tears?
Yet, you ought not to cry and not to regret

For rebuilding

Hunger can be handled one way or another. It' s summer now, so we needn' t worry much about clothes and roof. We can sleep in the open air for a while. But the cold season will come before long. We need to do something with this broken house, and we should never depend on others. We have to make a space we can lie down even if it' s made of just three pieces of lumber put together. I was worn out mentally as well as physically but I forced myself to start the house repair work as if whipping an empty cicada shell. There were neither tools nor materials. I began with removing roof tiles of our fallen house. Only a few of them were good for reuse, so I thought I would collect burnt tins and boards to make up for the shortage. I pulled out old nails, straightened and reused them. I gathered boards from different places and made it a rule to work on the house repair every day, little by little. Rumor said that Hiroshima would be no good to live in for 70 years. I thought it' d be true. The poisonous gas from the bombing penetrated into the soil and that would make it impossible for vegetables to grow. How many days have passed since the A-bombing? Enemy planes didn' t come, nor Japanese ones. We were cut off from the outside world. We didn' t know the time nor date, only we worked on our house day after day getting rid of the fallen walls and fences or gathering tins.

A rumor spread -no one knows who started- that the war will be over on August 15; unconditional surrender. Emperor was to make an announcement to the people at noon on the radio: the discontinuation order of the war, unconditional surrender. Since we were completely without information; no newspaper, no radio, we were not sure what' s true or false. If we lost this war, what would become of our country? What a sad thing!

Everything was over. Neither god nor Buddha was with us. Soldiers would have thrown away guns and farmers, hoes. We abandoned machines. We must endure all the hardships in order to reconstruct Japan. We must build a peaceful Japan, a country with a bright future. This is the task given to us.

P.S. I tried to describe exactly what I saw. Please forgive my poor writing, perhaps redundant in some part and in other part, fallen short.

Written by Yutaka Kajimoto (88)

The place of my A-bomb exposure
Minamikanon-machi, inside the factory of Asahi Weaponry Co., 3km from the hypocenter

The author of the stories here comes under “Hiroshima Council of the A-bomb Counter-disaster Measures ”, which is the managing body of the Funairi Mutsumien, Hiroshima A-bomb nursing home.

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