MEET THE SURVIVORS
Fifteen years old in 1945, Dō-oh Mineko was a mobilized student worker, mandated by the Japanese government to work for the war effort. She dreamed of a career in fashion design. On the morning of August 9, 1945, Dō-oh was checking the assembly of a torpedo when the atomic bomb exploded, just over three-quarters of a mile away. She sustained injuries and toxic doses of radiation that kept her hidden in her house until 1955.
“My favorite poem has a line it that goes: ‘If you don’t become yourself, who will become you?’ It’s wonderful, don’t you think? This is what guides my life.”
Nagano Etsuko was sixteen at the time of the atomic bombing. For safety, earlier that year her parents had sent her younger sister and brother to their grandparents’ house in Kagoshima, on the southern coast of Kyushu. But Nagano missed them so much, she traveled there and begged them to come home. When the atomic bomb exploded over the Urakami Valley in Nagasaki, Nagano was 1.75 miles away, working in an airplane parts factory. She raced toward her home, three-quarters of a mile from the hypocenter.
“My sister’s eyes were incredibly huge. At home, we put our desks next to each other. If we trespassed in each other’s space, even a little, we’d knock the other’s elbow back! As for my younger brother, I often carried him on my back. Sometimes we went to the book rental store. I could stand and read, and my mother wouldn’t say anything because I was babysitting. Those are the only things I remember.”
Sixteen-year-old Taniguchi Sumiteru worked as a postal worker and was delivering mail by bicycle in the hills in the northern corner of Nagasaki when the atomic bomb exploded just over a mile away. Nothing stood in the path between Taniguchi and bomb’s massive blast force, heat, and radiation. He was blown off his bicycle and lay on the searing pavement, his back burned off.
“What remains branded in my memory, more vividly than anything else now, is the tragedy of war, the carnage and suffering caused by the atomic bombing; my grandfather who attended to me for more than two years; and the doctors and nurses who helped me recover. No amount of money can buy human love, the loftiest thing of all.”
The oldest of the five survivors, in August 1945, Wada Kōichi was eighteen years old and had worked for two years as a streetcar driver for the Nagasaki Streetcar Company. On the morning of the bomb, Wada had just arrived back at the streetcar terminal and was talking with his friends when the blast sent him flying through the air. His colleagues helped extricate him from beneath the collapsed building. That afternoon, Wada was one of the first survivors to join the city’s relief efforts, carrying the injured to relief stations on wooden doors.
“Every August, all of the streetcar company employees gather for a ceremony remembering our colleagues who died in the atomic bomb attack. When we started having the ceremony, there were close to sixty survivors still alive. Now there are only three.”
Thirteen at the time of the bomb, Yoshida Katsuji stood at a roadside well when he looked up in the direction of the plutonium bomb descending toward the city. He was three-quarters of a mile away. When the bomb exploded, Yoshida was hurled backwards across a field, a road, and an irrigation channel. He landed in a rice paddy and sustained severe disfiguring facial burns.
“When I speak before visiting school groups, the little girls look at me and instantly begin to cry. I tell the audience, ‘I am as good looking as Kimutaku’—a famous actor. When I spoke in Chicago, I was DiCaprio. In Japan, I am Kimutaku. I tell them this to make them laugh.”