Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

'Avoid war at any cost': From evacuation shelter, A-bomb survivor recalls devastation

Tomoyoshi Kawasaki sits on a veranda covered by a tarp at his home in the Koyaura district of the town of Saka, Hiroshima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- An 86-year-old survivor of the U.S. atomic bombing of this city had long observed the anniversary of the blast at his home joining his hands in prayer in front of a Buddhist altar. This year, however, he observed the day at an evacuation shelter after being driven from his home due to the torrential rain disaster that devastated western Japan last month.

"I don't want to see my town messed up anymore," Tomoyoshi Kawasaki, 86, a resident of Saka, Hiroshima Prefecture, lamented. His home was hit by mud triggered by the downpour in his area on the night of July 6, when he and his 82-year-old wife were inside the structure. The gate to his house suddenly opened with a bang due to the mud gushing onto the premises, burying the first floor and the garden.

The couple fled to their son's home next door and was safe, and subsequently moved to a welfare facility serving as an evacuation center in the town. While living as evacuees with uncertain prospects for the future, Kawasaki recalled the summer 73 years ago.

On Aug. 6, 1945, he was resting at his home in the Koyaura district of Saka after being absent from school due to a stomachache. Aged 13, he was a second-year student at Hiroshima No. 2 Junior High School, presently Hiroshima Kannon High School in Hiroshima's Nishi Ward.

"I saw a flashing light, which was followed by a boom seconds later. I felt my organs shake all over my body," he recalls. He saw a giant mushroom cloud pluming in the direction of Hiroshima city, about 10 kilometers away across the sea.

He couldn't get in touch with his aunt living in Hiroshima, and headed to the city with his mother the next day to search for her. As they approached the city in ruins, the stench of scorched human bodies wafted through the air. Bodies with pink skin sores were piled up on top of each other, including those of babies. "The sight still remains stuck in my head," Kawasaki said.

He managed to find his aunt and took her to his home in Koyaura, but her burn marks would not disappear. More than 300 first-year students at his school who were mobilized for labor near the hypocenter died in the bombing, and his classmates also perished where Kawasaki was supposed to have been on the bombing day.

On Sept. 17 that year, the Makurazaki Typhoon that had made landfall in Kagoshima Prefecture in southwestern Japan ravaged the Japanese archipelago, sweeping away a number of houses near Kawasaki's and mud gushed into his residence. Two years later, he received an official bulletin notifying him that his father, who was sent to war, had died in the Philippines.

Kawasaki gave up on advancing to college in order to support his family and joined a local credit union. He eventually got married and had two children -- a boy and a girl. When he built his own house at age 49, he had its foundation filled with concrete to make it sturdy. However, the July 2018 rain disaster largely damaged his home, and his cherished garden was filled with earth and sand.

The other day, he found his favorite pruning shears from among the debris at his home. "I want to use these again," he said.

"We have no choice but to accept natural disasters. But war is caused by human beings. We must avoid it at any cost," he said.

(Japanese original by Yuta Kumamoto, Hiroshima Bureau)

Also in The Mainichi

The Mainichi on social media