NEYAGAWA, Osaka -- Atomic bomb survivor Goro Matsuyama, 85, still feels regret for actions he took soon after the Hiroshima bombing.
"The lie I told then became a 'debt' I shouldered for decades afterwards," he says.
Matsuyama was a 16-year-old student when the bomb fell. He was at a machinery factory where he had been conscripted to work when he saw the flash of the explosion from some four kilometers away. When he tried to run, he was hit in the back by the bomb blast and lost his balance, but he wasn't hurt.
Some hours after the bombing, Matsuyama climbed a river embankment to get the entire picture of the damage. He saw nearly 15 people lying in a grassy area. A man called out to him, "Student, you look healthy. Take this teacher to a clinic," indicating a woman lying face down nearby.
"I'll go call my friend," Matsuyama said. But afterwards he became busy checking on the wellbeing of other students at a nearby dormitory, and he never returned to the embankment.
"Even if I had carried the teacher, I doubt she would have survived. But she was probably left with the thought that I didn't help her," Matsuyama says.
The next day, Matsuyama crossed the city from west to east to head for the suburb of Kaita. He saw fallen people and horses around him. He thought one body was a burnt tree, until he realized he had stepped on a charred human leg.
One month after returning to his hometown, Matsuyama developed purple spots on his body, his hair started falling out and his gums started bleeding. Adults living nearby who had gone to help in Hiroshima came down with the same symptoms and died one after the other. Matsuyama was hospitalized and prepared himself for the possibility he wouldn't live, but fortunately he was able to recover. After the war ended, he became a teacher at elementary schools and schools for the disabled, but he never spoke of his experiences with the bomb.
"I wanted to talk about it, but I was afraid of prejudice," he says. He had three children, and each time one was born, he worried about the effects of his radiation exposure.
In 2008, as a member of an association of A-bomb survivors, he put together a collection of survivors' stories, including his own. In 2009, 64 years after that fateful day, he returned to the embankment he had never forgotten about. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, and laid flowers.
With an English translation of the survivors' stories in hand, he will head in late April for the United States, where the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference will be held.
"Why does an 85-year-old hibakusha (A-bomb survivor) go to America? I want world leaders who don't know the terrors of nuclear weapons to think about that," he says.
(This is Part 5 of a new Hibakusha series.)