5. Cherishing the Memory of My First Son Yoshiya

  On August 6, the sky was very clear. There was not a cloud and the sun was shining brightly. The night before, air-raid warnings were issued twice, and each time I had to go out for labour service. Lack of sleep kept me from seeing clearly, but the color of the sky looked very vivid to me.

  My wife was in bed because of a stomachache, so I ate a light breakfast with the rest of my family: my first daughter, who was an eighth grader at Suzugamine Girls' Middle School; my second daughter, who was a fourth grader at Misasa National Elementary School; my first son Yoshiya, who was a first grader; and my second son. The air raid alarm that had been issued was canceled.

  In the critical situation of those days, the children went to school except Sunday, even during the summer vacation, which otherwise they would have enjoyed. Most parts of the schools, however, were taken over by the military, and they had classes in the makeshift classrooms provided in every district.

  Yoshiya went to Yokogawa Youth Center, which was where the nearest makeshift classroom to our house had been provided. The Center was one-story building with a tiled roof and about 165 square meters large. It was 50 meters west of the Yokogawa Main Street. There was a one-meter-wide road between that main street and the Center, and a ditch, about two meters wide, was running along the north side of that road. The next door on the right side of the Center was a sign maker's shop.

  Yoshiya had been absent from school for two days because of a stomachache, but as he recovered that morning, we advised him to go to school. He was ready to leave for school together with his sister, his bag with the textbooks hanging from one shoulder and his big air-raid hood from the other.

  Actually, I was reluctant to send him to school. Therefore, when he started, I repeatedly told him that if he had a stomachache, he should ask his teacher to let him return home. He answered, “Yes, Father”, nodding to each of my words, and went out of the entrance around 7:40. I never imagined that would be his last look and our lifelong separation. Just after he went out, a mother and a daughter of my wife's relatives visited us and we chatted in our 6-mat room. Then 8:15, that fatal moment came.

  At that moment Yoshiya and his elder sister Hiroko were waiting for the class to begin, innocently joining hands in front of the sign maker's shop next to the Center. All of a sudden an unexpected disaster attacked all of Hiroshima's citizens including our two children. There was a pale flash of light and then pitch darkness as though a night had fallen. Every black thing, including black-covered-electric wire and blackout curtains, began to burn and red flames soared up. After 4 or 5 seconds the violent blast struck us, accompanied by an intense roar as though the heavens had split. All the buildings around us were blown away. Yoshiya, who had been holding hands with his sister, was blown away at that moment, and vanished out of sight.

  Hiroko frantically called out her brother's name again and again, but no answer came. Perhaps he was trapped under the collapsed building. After a while it grew a little lighter, but in the sky the white clouds were whirling, although it had been completely clear a short time before. Then the fires broke out here and there and the violent wind began to blow. Hiroko was afraid she would be burned to death if she stayed there longer, so she went to a street with a tramway. Prevented by the flames from heading home, she sought shelter under the Yokogawa Bridge. She found Seto-kun dead, with his internal organs ruptured after having been knocked down by the blast onto the paving stone of the street car. Twenty minutes earlier he had headed back home to get things that he had left at home.

  This is what Hiroko told me when we met some days later. If I had been there, I would have managed to help him regardless of all risks. My heart fills with deep regret whenever I think of that. At that same time, my house was destroyed by the blast and I narrowly crept out from under the house with bad injuries on my face and arms. Seeing that the entire area had become a sea of fire, I managed to escape to the warehouse of Misasa Credit Union, 150 meters north, not being able to help my wife and her relatives. Finding that that place was also on the verge of being surrounded by the fire, I tried to flee to the north, but I could not stand up, much less walk, because bleeding due to the worsened injuries on my feet made me dizzy. Although I was worried about my children whom I left that morning, I could do nothing about them.

  A few months later, I received a handful of ashes from one of our former neighbors which he suggested belonged to Yoshiya. I could not even cry to see a lifeless form of Yoshiya who had left with his sister, cheerfully saying good-by to us on that morning. He was our first son, born after four daughters. He grew to be a sturdy and healthy boy, who was nurtured by unlimited love and great expectations. On days off, I used to go to the field in Mitaki-cho to farm to help to alleviate the food shortage. Yoshiya used to follow me and waited until I finished farming when it grew dark. He would stay alone in the large field with no friends or playthings. He did not look bored at all. When I finished farming, we would go home together.

  On April 1, 1945 he entered Misasa National Elementary School. We held a small celebration for his entrance with festive red rice. He happily went to school, together with his sister and his friends, every day. One day at dinner time he told us a funny story. He said, “Today the teacher asked me to tell a story, so I went up to the platform and told the story like this. One day an old woman was doing the washing in the river. Then some clothes came floating down from upstream. She counted the clothes 1-mai, 2-mai, san-mai and 4-mai, which also means ending, and then I got down from the platform.” He played on the words with a sense of humor, which made us burst into laughter. Yoshiya was a cheerful and lively, and yet a somewhat shy, boy. He was always hanging around me, wanting to be with me.

  Was he blown away by a violent blast, trapped under the collapsed building and burned from the lower part of his body, unable to escape from the threatening violent flames? He might have asked for help, calling out his parents' names. I could never think of a more miserable thing. This miserable thing happened to tens of thousands of people at that time in Hiroshima. Many people escaped from the scene by themselves, begging forgiveness with their hands pressed together, when they heard the voice of victims asking for help. They could do nothing but run away without helping victims because of the threatening flames. After the fires went out, a lot of the bodies of victims were piled up and cremated like fish or garbage, and I was given one of the ashes among them.

  Over these 26 years, Yoshiya has sometimes appeared in my dreams. The ruins in the city were cleared away or deteriorated, but the tragic memory of us bereaved families will never fade away for many years to come in the future. We still remember the agony we experienced as though that happened only yesterday. We can do nothing but pray for the repose of the souls of the victims now that 26 years have passed.

  I wonder why the United States dropped the A-bomb on the center of this densely populated city. I know people have been discussing the motivation for the A-bombing from the military and political viewpoint. I think they should have taken an alternative means to convince Japan to surrender. They could have shown the strong power of the A-bomb by dropping it on an uninhabited island. I may say that their merciless conduct came from their racial discrimination against Japanese. For half a century since the war people have developed space technology as well as nuclear weapons. If nuclear war should break out, all living things, including humankind would be annihilated and the earth would surely become a desert like the moon. We survivors will keep appealing for no more Hiroshimas and an anti-war spirit as long as we live.

In Memoriam

Dear little Yoshiya,
Today is August 6, the anniversary of your death.
On that day
You left home for school,
your big air-raid hood hanging
from your shoulder
and nodding to each of my words.
Your image inprinted in my mind will never disappear from my memory
When you were blown away by the intense blast
and trapped under the pillar of the collapsed house
and were burned alive from your feet
You must have called your parents' names.
You must have kept crying,
blaming your parents who did not come to help you.
I am almost going crazy when I think of your agony then.

Please forgive your father.
At that same time I was trapped under the house
and severely injured with fragments of glass blown by the blast
and came close to dying due to bleeding.

I could not help your mother
or our relatives' mother and daughter.

I had no choice but to ask their forgiveness,
just shedding tears of blood.

I have almost come to the age of seventy.
I have little time until the end of my life.
I am looking forward to talking with your grandmother,
your mother, and other deceased people at heaven.

I will visit the grave of you and your mother.
Please let me hear your silent voice.
I will offer you your favorite figs.
Please eat them to my heart's content.

Written by Shoichi Uchiyama (Yokogawa, Hiroshima)

Death in the Atomic boming :
Yoshiya Uchiyama(a first grader at Misasa National Elementary School)