Disaster Beyond Description

The story of Miyoko Watanabe

Intense flash burst upon me

The midsummer sun was already glaring on the morning of August 6, 1945. After the all-clear signal following the air-raid warning, everything went back to normal with people busy doing their own business. It was a Monday and the Japan Steel works where I had been mobilized as a volunteer worker was closed. Going on an errand to a post office in Miyuki-bashi under the scorching sun, I could not bear the heat anymore, so I turned back home to fetch my parasol. I was just about to open the parasol at the threshold, when an intense flash burst upon me. It looked as if the gas tanks in Minami-machi on the other side of the river had exploded. The flash was a yellowish orange color, just like magnesium light but hundreds of times stronger. I instinctively rushed back into the house and laid myself down on my stomach as had been trained in evacuation drills.
It became dark and there were ghastly crashing and rattling sounds. I don’t know how long I was left unconscious, but when I came to and opened my eyes, I saw everything had been destroyed to the west except for the factory. I thought a bomb had been dropped there on the factory. I felt relieved to find myself alive. At the same time I was stricken with horror.

Mother looked an unearthly creature

Stepping outside, I found the clear, blue sky had turned dim as if it were at dusk. Dust in the air blocked the view across the river. The place was filled with an indescribable smell. Pulling myself together, I looked back at my house to see if my mother was all right. Her hair was a mess and standing on end; her lips were cracked and her head bleeding; she stood there like some unearthly creature. Then I saw my younger brother staggering about with his white cotton kimono soaked with blood. “Are you both all right ?” I asked. “That’s my blood. He’s not hurt,” replied my mother.

Mother’s fingers were left paralyzed

Noticing blood gushing out from her right wrist, I quickly went into the house to get a first-aid kit. The doors had fallen down, and the wall plaster had also fallen off revealing the tangled bamboo frames behind. Struggling through that rubble, I finally reached the closet and drew the kit out of it. I sprinkled the hemostatic on my mother’s face, and fixed her right arm with a triangular cloth and a stick to stop the bleeding. We carried her on a stretcher to the Mutual Aid Hospital, where the doctor sewed up the cuts in her lips, jaws, and shoulders. But he did not do anything for her wounded wrist, as it had already been given first aid. Because of this, it took a long time before the wound got better, and the thumb and the index finger of her right hand were to be left paralyzed. Mother passed away in January, 1995.

A baby sucking at a dead woman’s breast

I also remember seeing a woman lying dead at a house by the river bank-her neck stuck through with a piece of glass blown by the blast. The glass must have cut the artery. Blood was scattered around her. She had been suckling her baby. The baby was still absorbed in sucking the breast. There was a middle school student who was severely burned above the neck except for the top of his head which had been protected by his combat cap. He was walking barefoot saying, “Please give me water. I’m hot. Hot…” His school uniform was burned to tatters. There came a drove of people whose faces and clothes were burned black; almost naked and burned beyond recognition, they came tottering along dangling their arms in front of them like ghosts; some had their work pants burned away save the elastic strings; others had all their clothes burned except for the front part. They all kept chanting, “Water! Give me water!” Exposed juicily wet flesh, peeled skin hanging from their fingertips like seaweed….

Father’s body burned all over

I took my younger brother to one of the air-raid shelters. The atmosphere inside was eerie. A mother held in her arms her 18-month-old baby who looked very pale and almost lifeless. The baby stopped breathing after a while. My father came back with his body burned all over. He had been involved in the building demolition work near the Red Cross Hospital. I got a bottle of cooking oil from somewhere and applied it to his burns. We were surrounded by other people who were also suffering from burns and the oil ran out in no time. We saw the heart of the city burning, belching billows of black smoke.
A soldier came to announce that a first-aid station had been set up in Miyuki-bashi. My father went over there to receive treatment for his burns and was directly taken to Nino-shima. We should never have let him go alone. I am still plagued by a sense of remorse about it. I carried my mother and my younger brother to a place called Tanna on a cart. Along the way I saw a horse lying dead on its back near the post office. On the river side burned people sat crouching like rags. I could not tell whether they were alive or dead.
An unfamiliar smell was floating in the air around the Mutual Aid Hospital. Dead bodies were piled up on the roadside. Strangely enough I never felt the dignity of life as seriously as I do now, faced with so many deaths. Had my mind stopped working after experiencing such a sudden attack by the bomb?
I took my father back home from Nino-shima on August 8. Flies swarmed about him because of the odor his festered burns and the white ointment gave out. It took some effort to chase the pests away.

Maggots crawling over burned bodies

On the way to the Mutual Aid Hospital there was a first-aid station where wounded people in a serious condition were laid on straw mats. They were delirious, begging for water. Those whose backs were burned lay on their stomachs, and those whose front was burned lay on their back. They could not even move to change their position. Their wounds and burns were covered with countless flies laying eggs there. Those eggs hatched into maggots, and these crawled all over their bodies causing them infernal agony. Broken glass pieces spotted in mom’s mouth.

Broken glass pieces in mom’s mouth

One week passed, and the doctor told us to remove the stitches from my mother’s wounds by ourselves. I took care of that. She said her lips and jaws still felt numb. As I examined between her lower lip and gum, I spotted a piece of glass about the size of a little finger nail. As I continued feeling there, my fingers detected five more pieces, and then a further two, though she told me to stop because she did not feel well. Those broken pieces of glass had been stuck into her mouth by the blast, when she called the name of her son.

Father’s death

My father asked for water. Knowing he would die if he drank too much, I only gave him a tiny cup of water. I did so, because I wanted him to survive. I am not sure if I did the right thing, and my heart aches whenever I think of it. On the day of Japan’s surrender, he mumbled, “Japan lost the war.” He died undramatically the next day, complaining of the cold.

Too many deaths numbed my senses

Forty-three years ago his death did not make me feel this sad. My senses may have been numbed at that time after facing so many deaths. A single bomb inflicted tremendous agony and pain on the people here. Many of them were killed and the city was reduced to ashes. Driven beyond what they could stand, people had lost their human commonsense.

Horrible aftereffects took my brother’s life

The damage caused by the bomb was not confined to those who were actually exposed to it. People who sustained no injuries, e.g. those who went near the hypocenter to search for their children, suffered a high fever and got purple spots all over their bodies, went almost mad, and died one after another during the six months following the bombing. My elder brother was suddenly stricken with leukemia and died many years after that dreadful experience, when we had almost forgotten about it. I myself suffered from diarrhea for some time at the end of August. I have never forgotten how hot it was on that day.

Telling my story is my mission for peace

It is not easy for me to talk about my experience as an A-bomb survivor. For me it is like airing my dirty linen in public. But here I am to talk to you, because I really want all of you to remember that the peace we have today has been achieved through the sacrifice of those people who were mercilessly killed without receiving a drop of water to quench their thirst. To keep a lasting, permanent peace, I want to convey the heart of ‘Hiroshima’, hoping that what I do will be like small ripples growing into big waves and into a tidal wave.