Women Rising Radio is honored to feature a haunting story of the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. This is the complete story written by Fujiko Yoshikawa. We broadcast a short excerpt from the story, in our program #31.
by Yoshikawa Fujiko* Translation by Kyle Hecht
Chapter 1: Home
Yagi is a small village in Aki County, on the outskirts of Hiroshima City. It is a beautiful place graced by the Ohta River, which flows to the east. Ricefish and weatherfish swim in the river’s many streamlets, and there are small clams in the sands of the river bed. The fields are full of snails.
The beauty of the lotus fields in springtime is breathtaking, and this is where the children of the village would play. After the season of the lotus blossoms would come to an end, the land would then be plowed and recultivated. In time, rape blossoms would bloom, painting the fields golden yellow, and releasing a rich scent for all to enjoy. From the rape blossoms the villagers would harvest rapeseed oil. Such was the cycle of the seasons, and the rich abundance of nature in Yagi Village. Such was Masaru’s home.
Chapter 2: State of War
Masaru’s father was a soldier. While his father fought in the war abroad, the family home was cared for by his grandmother, his mother, and little Masaru himself. He was considered by all to be a blessed child, and a good heir.
Masaru was popular at school. When he and his fellow students would sing the “Cedar Song” in class, which goes “Say hello! Say hello! And smile to the sun!” Masaru would pretend to scoup manure and instead sing “Scoop it up! Scoop it up! Scoop up the manure!” Everyone would laugh.
Once, when the “Imperial Headquarters Report” broadcast in school, Masaru accidentally blurted out the words “I’m hungry.” As this was a time of food shortage, a feeling of sadness spread across the classroom. Seeing this, Masaru bucked up and admirably declared, “But I don’t need anything until we win the war!” He always inspired his class to do their best.
Masaru finally made it to the sixth grade. Everyone in his class was excited to move on to middle school in Hiroshima City. The principal had something to say about this, however. “All the middle schools are in the city, and there are air raids there. The boys will go, but the girls will have to stay home.”
The girls reluctantly remained in the village, while Masaru moved on to middle school in the city. The announcement that the principal made would would separate the destinies of the boys and the girls forever.
Shortly after Masaru became a middle school student, the quiet of Yagi Village was interrupted by the sound of emergency sirens. People who faced danger from air raids in Hiroshima City were asked to evacuate, and gradually flowed into our village.
The evacuees would trespass on others’ land and cross into the mountains, where they would gather chestnuts without permission. The were yelled at and told to stop. However, I would like to make it clear that the evacuees would only pick up chestnuts that had already fallen to the ground, and none of the landowners’ crops.
Friction would occur from time to time between the villagers and the evacuees. The hearts of the members of our tranquil village gradually began to harden.
B-29’s began to fly around in the skies above. Up until that point the National Women’s Defense League would practice fighting with bamboo spears and conducting bucket relays every day. They never thought they would have to train their spears toward the sky. When the planes arrived, everyone felt a sense of urgency.
When Masaru traveled to the middle school in the city, he would carry his bags on a diagonal cross that straddled both his shoulders. On one side he carried his emergency items. On the other, he carried his school supplies. His school uniform fit him well, and he looked as sharp as a middle school boy could. He had the air of a little soldier, and would greet everyone he passed with a proper, formal greeting. There was so much poverty at the time that his mother was unable to take a photograph of her splendid son in his school uniform. But his image would always remain in her heart.
Summer came, but there was no vacation for Masaru. He had to work on Saturdays and Sundays. At the time, people lived in what they would eventually call the “Age of Monday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Friday.”
Even though he was a middle school student, Masaru only spent a small amount of his time in school. The rest of his time was spent assisting the defense effort. Masaru and his fellow middle school students were tasked with dismantling the homes of the evacuees from the city. The rationale behind this task was that if these houses were dismantled, and their lots left empty, the city would be able to reduce the damage received from air raids to the smallest extent possible.
Chapter 3: The Blast
August 6th was a day like any other. The sun shone with a brilliant luster. In the early morning, Masaru gave his mother and grandmother a formal goodbye. “I hereby depart!” he said, and went off to school in the city. Those were desperate days, and they were all prepared for the possibility that one day he may not come back.
After seeing Masaru off, his mother and grandmother returned to their work in the fields with rigor. It was a day like any other.
In the morning another emergency siren blared, and a B-29 flew across the sky. The siren soon stopped, but just as people began to relax, another B-29 flew above us. “More B-29’s are coming than ever before,” someone said. The villagers could not hide their anxiety.
One could tell American planes and Japanese planes apart by the sound of their propellers. The buzz of the metal propellers on the American planes differed from the sound of the wooden propellers used by the Japanese.
Though Masaru and his fellow students had taken shelter in the air defense trenches that day, once the first alarm was canceled they were led by their teacher back to work.
“Today will also be a hot day, but if you think about the soldiers fighting for us abroad, we have to do our best,” the teacher said. Everyone thought the same. A B-29 flew above them in the sky. Startled, Masaru and his friends turned to face one other.
In the village, Masaru’s mother and the others had returned to their work in the fields. Suddenly there was a flash, one that looked like one hundred bolts of lightning had struck at once. The whole sky lit up. Masaru’s grandmother and mother stopped their work, and looked toward the light. Immediately after, a loud noise as if one thousand bombs had exploded at once bellowed throughout the sky, and a strong blast wind followed.
“That B-29 must have dropped a bomb,” Masaru’s mother said.
Off in the distance, a crimson and black plume of fire and smoke loomed. The cloud of smoke soon took the shape of a giant mushroom.
They said on the radio that a giant bomb had fallen on Hiroshima, someone nearby explained. The situation was serious.
“What!? Hiroshima!? What about Masaru!?” Masaru’s mother screamed, and dropped her hoe. She set off toward the city, and ran.
Chapter 4: A Portrait of Hell
Just how long did she run? She passed many people staggering from the opposite direction – people with blood coming out of their heads, with their hands torn off, with their faces and bodies covered with blood. It looked like a portrait of hell.
A horrible stench drifted from the town, the likes of which she had never smelled before. When she approached the city, there were many people whose bodies were covered in burns and black soot. Their bodies were so black, she couldn’t even tell if they were men or women. Their clothing had been torn to pieces, and dangled loosely from their bodies. She saw hundreds, if not thousands of such people. They pushed through the pain and did their best to escape from the burning city.
Masaru’s mother pushed through the crowd, screaming the name of her son at the top of her lungs. “MASARU!!! MASARU!!!”
As she forced her way through, she passed people who had collapsed, and were dying. Someone called out to her, “Miss! Help me!” She tried to lift the person up, but as she did their skin slid off, revealing the red of muscles underneath. She wanted to cover her eyes, the sight was so horrible. The person did their best to stand up and follow her. They couldn’t stand, let alone walk. It was as if the will to live had given them one final burst of strength, and inspired them to try with all their might to survive. Masaru’s mother wished she could help. People in similar distress moaned all around her, walking the line between life and death.
Masaru might also be lying somewhere in the same condition. When Masaru’s mother thought this, she went mad. Even if that were the case, she wanted him to live. She prayed, and continued to search for her son.
The houses were destroyed. Those that remained had burst into flame. The buildings had burnt down, their steel supports melting and bending as if they were soft candy. There was a person whose stomach had been severed by the blast wind, who meandered the city holding their bowels to their body with both hands. Hot winds continued to blow, and it was difficult to breathe. One after another, people began throwing themselves into the river, desperate for relief. The scene was dreadful, and it extended all around her.
Masaru’s mother lost track of time as she searched. No matter how many times she looked throughout the city, there was no sign of her son. Maybe he made it home, she thought. She turned around and went back to the village the same way she came.
Chapter 5: Whereabouts
When Masaru’s mother managed to arrive at the house, his grandmother was waiting in the doorway. “Where’s Masaru?” she asked his grandmother, but it was no use. Masaru’s grandmother had come home alone, without her grandson. When Masaru’s mother saw this, she was heartbroken.
Masaru’s mother stood in the entryway, her sandals burnt and torn, and her whole body black with soot. Without being prompted, she told Masaru’s grandmother about everything that had happened.
“How dreadful! That does sound like hell,” Masaru’s grandmother said, sparing few words.
That night Masaru’s mother slept on her side. She vowed to herself, “I will find Masaru and bring him home tomorrow – no matter what.” Just as she began to fall asleep, she heard his voice. “Mom! It hurts! Help me!” Masaru screamed. But it was just a dream.
She left the house before dawn. There were even more people collapsed on the road than yesterday. Firefighters and soldiers stopped to take the names of the fallen, separating the dead from the wounded and carrying them away on trucks.
When she entered the still smouldering city, charred corpses were strewn across the ground. She made her way to the river. Those who had jumped into the river, unable to stand the heat, died there. Hundreds of corpses floated on the river’s surface.
Masaru’s mother strained her voice as she screamed the name of her son. She searched the next day as well, but was still unable to find any trace of him. “He must be somewhere in that awful place, stuck in a corner, unable to receive help, waiting alone for me,” she thought. Masaru’s mother cried as she searched for her little boy.
Soon after, she heard news that the teacher who had lead Masaru and the other middle school students to work that day had returned home. She went to visit him, and found the teacher surrounded by other parents and siblings. He sat on the floor, with his head down in shame. He had looked for his students, but failed to find a single one. The teacher had been brought home on a stretcher.
One of the parents lost patience. “What do you mean you don’t know where our children are!? They might be dead! At the very least, hold a funeral for them! If you had been the one to die, they would have done the same for you!” he yelled.
The teacher looked down and sat in silence. There was nothing he could have done to save the children, considering what happened so suddenly that day. The teacher’s hair was falling out, and he was beginning to lose his sense of taste. A few days after he was confronted by the parents and siblings, he passed away. Perhaps he was able to meet his students again in the next world.
At the time, no one knew the words “atomic bomb.” There was a flash (pika), and a boom (don), so people came to call the bomb the Pikadon.**
People who returned home seemingly unharmed could develop grave aftereffects, such as having their hair fall out and losing their sense of taste, just as easily as people who came home covered in burns. Everyone would say, “If you breathed in the gas from the Pikadon, you’re out of luck.” It was what people now call the “atomic bomb disease.”
Someone could be healthy one day, and develop signs of illness the next. People embraced a type of anxiety that they had never heard nor spoken of before, and spent their days with this fear. Those who managed to get through that hell and return to their homes safely found themselves not only at risk of the “atomic bomb disease,” but also with deep scars in their hearts.
Chapter 6: Father Returns
On August 15 the war came to an end. There would be no more sirens, no more need for fear. Masaru’s mother continued to make rounds at the survivors’ shelters, hoping to find her son. However, the morning of the day that the atomic bomb fell would be the last time she would ever see him.
Soldiers began to return home from the battlefield, and assume their former responsibilities in the fields. Families that had lost people to the Pikadon shared their grief, and worked together to overcome.
Even after the war’s end, Masaru’s mother and grandmother never gave up their hope, however vague, that Masaru might one day return. They lived every day with the prayer that he might appear suddenly, and greet them formally, “I have arrived!”
One evening, just as the families were lighting their lanterns, Masaru’s father returned. He disembarked at the train station, and jogged hurriedly up the path to the family home. He turned the corner, and before even seeing the house yelled, “Hey! Masaru! Hey! I’m home!” But Masaru wasn’t there to hear his father, nor run out to greet him. Greeted instead by a strange silence, Masaru’s father crossed the threshold into the family home. One wonders what thoughts passed through his head, and feelings passed through his heart as he did so.
Almost 60 years have passed since that date, and still Masaru’s whereabouts are unknown.***
*Japanese name order, with the author’s last name first.
**Pronounced “Pee-ka-don” (“don” pronounced like “moan”)
***At the time of writing. At the time of translation (9/4/2016), over 60 years have passed since the atomic bomb and the return of Masaru’s father.