AUGUST 6th, 1945
It was a beautiful morning. Though warnings had been announced since the previous night, no one realized their actual seriousness. At 7:09 a.m. another alarm, warning of the approach of hostile planes was given, but at 7:31 a.m. it was called off, too.
My big sister, Hideko, worked in Okunojima, which was located off the southern coast of Hiroshima, to make poison gas since a week before. My younger sister, Miyako, was working at the Toyo Kogyou factory from early in the morning.
On that morning, my mother woke me up several times, but I didn’t get up. I could scarcely sleep at all the night before and felt still extremely sleepy. Although it was the day we started to clean up destroyed houses near Tsurumi-machi, I didn’t feel like going to work today. But I told myself that I had to go there anyway. Finally I got out of my futon and put my new shirt and pants on. Then, I ate some sweet potatoes and when I went out of my house, I thought this working shirt was too good to get dirty only one day, so I put another shirt over that.
By 8:00 a.m., the working day had begun in the city’s factories and stores. Even earlier, housewives and middle school children had begun the demolition work to make vacant lots in eight locations in the central city. That plan was to prevent the spread of fires that might be caused by bombs. Preschool children and those elementary school students who had not been evacuated to the suburbs could be seen resting or playing outside or in their houses on that sunny morning. There was no way of knowing the great tragedy that was to occur.
A little before 8:15 a.m., Hiroshima Chuo Broadcasting Station again received a report from the military that three B-29 planes were approaching Hiroshima, and began to announce the news on the radio.
I was looking up at the sky fascinated by the beauty of the cool vapor trail with Tomomi and some other friends near Tsurumi-bashi. At that moment, the brightness of the midsummer morning was filled with a powerful brilliance and a purplish flash, as if lightning had struck above people’s heads. The sky split open over the city. I instinctively flung myself face down onto the ground.
A few seconds later, the rush of a mighty wind followed. I heard cries of pain and torturous groans of agony. Something terrible happened. I didn’t know how long I had been unconscious, but when I came to, I was in a deserted land lying in a totally different place from where I was a few seconds before.
I lifted up my head in fear and looked around at my surroundings. To the west, the sky that had been beautiful blue a minute before, was changed to a mass of white clouds. Whatever it was, the growing form looked like a monstrous mushroom, and then transformed into a single vast column of vapor rapidly reaching all the way to the ground. Its shape was continuously changing and the color was kaleidoscopic, glittered with some explosions here and there.
It was as if I were thrown into red and black flames. As far as I could see, a dead quiet, mysterious and strange blazing world was spread around me.
“Where am I?” For a moment, I was in a trance. However, the reality of the war, which was progressing, jolted me back to awareness. At the next moment, I ran away as fast as I could to escape from the fire. While I was running, I had heard tremendous ripping, slamming and crashing sounds as houses and buildings were breaking down.
After a while, like a dense fog gradually thinning, the sky was clearing up little by little. Soon figures loomed up dimly, their arms and legs as well. I was sure it was not a conventional bomb. In any case, I didn’t see any American aircraft in the sky. “What on earth was the strong purple flash of light and big clouds?” I wondered. I was frightened that the world was totally wrapped up in the horrible flame I had seen.
Just then, I heard excited voices. “What do you think that was?”
“Where am I?”
I turned and saw two girls like my age.
“I guess it might be near Showa-machl.” I answered.
“I think so, too.” one of the girl responded.
“Was it a bomb?”
“I don’t know…” I said.
My surrounding area was still dusky and the sand and smoke were whirling around. My long-sleeved shirt and pants were completely ragged. My throat was coarse and hurt to give out a sound. I felt like my entire face became swollen.
Slowly I started to walk with the people’s stream to the south. I had received a terrible shock from those unexpected things. The pain that I hadn’t felt at all began to come out gradually. I couldn’t put my arms down, so unconsciously, my arms were stretched out and I managed to walk.
Half the roofs of the barracks that I saw on the way had fallen down. Beside me, I saw a little boy with his mouth wide open. Some of his front teeth seemed to have been knocked out at that moment. He could not utter even a word out of terror. I tried to open my eyes wider. Then I noticed that some of the quilts and mattresses of the neighboring house were hanging down on the loosened electric wires outside.
The instant I saw the flash, I thought it was a bomb directly aimed at the Army. But many strange happenings around me made me realize that a lot of other buildings were hit as well. My favorite new school bag, which my mother had made for me out of her old sash, was totally burned. Its wide belt was torn off at the shoulder.
I heard the people crying for help from somewhere in the fallen buildings.
“Hot! Hot! I need help!!”
“Give me some water…”
At that moment, I could hear someone, maybe one soldier shouting, “Let’s die for our nation! If you can swim, cross the river to the other shore! If you can’t swim, sing the Japanese national anthem and die!”
Many people were pressed under a beam. They cried for help, and some neighbors hastened to them. But the wood was too heavy to lift up. It needed a great effort to crawl to the outside of the destroyed house. Everyone made desperate efforts to make it.
Just as I was about to faint again, I saw a big fire in the direction toward my house. It was like a sea of flames. With the smell of blood and some burned stuff, the hell-like scene was beyond description. Naked people swarmed to group together in the middle of the white road. 1 couldn’t figure out whether they were men or women. Everyone looked like burned hosts or a dead people’s procession. Faces were half-peeled with the inside of the skin showing. Their skin was hanging down from the tips of their fingers. Countless people were lying on the wide stretch of burned ruins with their hands, feet, and arms bleeding.
I was walking along the Kyobashi River unnoticed. It was a little dusty but I could see the surface of the river around. So many burned people came here endlessly and went down to the riverside and sat down or lay down carelessly. I also did it.
“Gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!” a baby’s loud crying voice came into my ear strongly. I caught my breath at the sight of a baby crying, and couldn’t believe the terrible sight. The mother was scalded from her shoulder to breast. However, her arms looked like they were holding her baby to protect him, bending her arms.
“Mommy… Mommy…” and he was shaking its mother who was burned and already dead. The baby’s head and face was also very dirty with blood and dust. There was nothing for it but just look vacantly.
This baby’s grievous cry triggered into other sounds: Somebody was yelling, “Something was dropped! Something was dropped!!”
Some other guy shouted as if be followed that voice,
“The B-29 is coming again! Get away!!”
“Escape toward the mountain! Go to Hijiyama!”
At that moment, the sound of burning houses echoed in my ears.
“Hey, it’s too dangerous to stay here!!!”
“Go! Go to the mountain!” People shouted and headed for Hijiyama.
There were lots of people at the riverbank. They pushed each other, and men, women, boys and girls were jumping into the river, or rather falling as if they were pushed one after another. It was just like a group of animals moving.
I tried to go to the mountain and climbed a low hill. When I reached the top, a black and dull scene opened as far as I could see. All of the houses were squashed or burned to ashes and changed to a horrible wasteland. The smoke of a mass of black, burned, dead bodies came around me from the still burning remains. The sea of flames that had a weird beauty licked up the whole city and made it barren. Nothing was left standing. Therefore I had no idea where my house and school had been. It was a completely destroyed city.
For a while, petrified with terror, I couldn’t move away from that place. Then gradually I began to notice that there was a hole in my heart and tears welled up in my eyes. I almost shouted out, “Where are my mother, grandmother, and sisters? I am here. Don’t leave me alone.” As far as I could see, there was nothing that remained the same as when I spent time with my family and friends. Almost all the buildings in my surroundings were ruined and had turned into a burned, barren field. It was horrible beyond imagination. All living things here vanished and were killed in an instant.
Then suddenly I thought that I should go and find my family as soon as possible. I decided to quit going to Hijiyama and went down the hill and started walking toward my house. It was the reverse of the people’s current who were heading to Hijiyama. However, I was held by my idea of finding my family.
Along the way, the road was full to overflowing with victims, some with great wounds. Others were burned and people who had lost the strength to move farther were seated at the roadside with vacant faces. One old man came near me and gave me some oil to put on my body.
I was changed to a terrible figure. Half of my hair was burned out and my face was covered with injuries and blood. From my thighs to the end of my legs, skin was melted and shrunk. It didn’t look like 16-year-old legs at all: or rather, I looked like a 100-year-old person. However, it was a good thing that I wore two shirts so that the upper half of my body was slightly safe. My body felt strange. It was mine but felt like it belonged to another person.
After I finished putting some oil on, I started walking again toward where I guessed Senda-machi was. While I was going along the bridge, a muddy rain that was dark and chilly began to fall. Around the houses I noticed automobiles and all sorts of household stuff that had been tossed out, but there was no one who stopped to pick up the things. Everyone was frantically intent on escaping.
I stood rooted to the spot in the terror. One woman was lying down in the middle of the road. Her clothes were burned and she was almost naked. I couldn’t distinguish even if she was young or not. She seemed like an elderly woman. She didn’t die yet; however, she lay on her back and couldn’t move. Some strode over her but others who didn’t have enough strength trampled on her. I stopped in front of her and thought, “I want to help her to get up.” But I didn’t have much power to lift her up. A lot of victims were coming behind me in large groups. I was almost pushed down, so it was all I could do to walk aside from her, caring not to stamp nor fall down on her. I guess everyone felt the same way. The people who got heavily injured were treated very badly. What a cruel thing! But I saw it right in front of my eyes and couldn’t help her.
I didn’t know if the people who lay down were dead or not, but a tremendous lot of people were lying all over the ground. Then they toppled over one after another. I was also about to fall several times.
I don’t remember where I went, but I just thought I bad to put all my strength and walk a long distance. “No, I can’t walk any more.” It was my limit. As soon as I sat down under the shade of destroyed bricks, I became unconscious again.
When I came to myself, I was enveloped in darkness. I couldn’t open my eyelids easily. After a little while, I could barely open my eyes and looked around. At that moment, I felt something terrible had happened to my right eye. All I could see was just darkness. It was like I was turned into bell and felt very sad when I realized I could hardly see the things in front of me. That meant I almost lost sight and had to rely on everything with my left eye. Some figures were moving. Then I felt faint signs of the figures and came into the darkness soon. All I could hear was buzzing that traveled from the far field.
I began to hover between dream and actuality.
It was a very hot day.
I was swimming at the beach with my friends.
After I came out from the water, I got thirsty.
Then I tried to drink some cold water that I brought.
“Give me some water, give me some water, please.”
“I am Sayuri Minamoto of Senda-machi”
“I’m looking for my family. My father’s name is Kenzo Minamoto; my mother’s name is Nozomi”
“I’m here. Help me somebody!”
I remember I was delirious and repeating it while I had a dim memory. I didn’t feel any pain with my injuries and burns. All I could perceive was that I peed right there in spite of thinking that I should go to a toilet. It seemed there were many people around me, but I had no energy to look around. My eyes were so swelled up that I couldn’t open them. I was completely exhausted and my consciousness, which sometimes revived, was only “water” and my family’s name.
I couldn’t tell from day and night, no eating and drinking, just lying there and passing several days.
©Copyright January 2001 by Keiko Kuroki