An Atomic Spark from a 1937 Yearbook

The Atomic Peace Dome, 1,500 yards from Dad’s high school.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima left a spark – a spark which grew into universal forgiveness and kindness.  From that unbounded forgiveness and kindness came a 1937 high school yearbook from a school that no longer existed – but its soul survived intact and gloriously
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Dad is simply a very quiet man.  For every word he spoke, mom must have said a bazillion words.  No wonder he was quiet.  (You know, it may have been better to write “every word he tried to speak”.)

But this past Sunday, June 10, dad was a songbird in Spring…even though mom was there.

Dad was eighteen again and back in Hiroshima, riding the train to school with his friend Aoki.  Carefree.  Young.  After 75 years, Dad was looking through his high school yearbook he probably never saw.

How I got that yearbook from 1937 for Dad is a story of unbounded kindness and a love for peace – and driven by a unwavering desire to honor those that perished in Hiroshima.

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All Dad had said in the past was that he ran track in his high school days and that the school was called “Nichu”.  I thought it was a nickname.  He wasn’t enthusiastic to share much more.

I was determined to find out more of my Dad’s past he was keeping hidden.

In Dad’s shoebox: a Nichu High School Pennant flying for an athletic meet in 1937.

All I had to start with had been a 1930’s photo of a pennant Dad had stashed away in a shoebox and a couple of class photos.  After some exploring, I figured out the Japanese symbol on the flag was a melding of “二” and “中”, or “Nichu”, the name Dad mentioned.

Researching in the Japanese language was an endeavor.   I finally came across a possible lead and sent a blind e-mail…  In spite of considerable odds, I received a reply from a man in Hiroshima.

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Mr. Akira Tsukamoto is a survivor.

In the waning days of the war, school children were put to work for their nation’s war effort in factories and fields.  That was their destiny.  Mr. Tsukamoto was one of those children.

Their teacher was Mr. Sekimoto; they had a nickname for him, “Mr. Pale”, because of his pale complexion.   The night before that fateful morning, Mr. Sekimoto had decided that it would be better for the class to tend a field and clear it of weeds.  Preparing the field for crops was more important than having class, he determined.  They would be in the northwest area of Hiroshima.

My two littlest kids standing in front of the Enola Gay in 2010.  I always viewed her as part of history.  Now I see a personal link.

Then came the morning and they were in the field while the other classes fatefully went to school.  Then they heard the familiar drone of B-29 engines.  They all saw what appeared to be three parachutes and a B-29 flying away.  One student recalls seeing something black in shape tumbling towards the earth.

There was a terrible blue and yellow flash.  A shock wave blew them down.  They covered their eyes and mouths as they had been trained.  But the heat from the blast was so searing, they could hear their skin and hair burning.

Their faces and bodies were burned on the left sides; in addition to searing pain, their skin slipped off.  All they could use was mashed raw potatoes as a salve.  It would take two months for their wounds to heal.  They say they were spared for a greater cause.

Mr. Tsukamoto’s story – translated into English – can be read here.  It is gripping and without malice.  Just kindness.

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Fast forward 67 years.  Mr. Tsukamoto – the child who was pulling weeds in a field – was the one who kindly responded to my blind e-mail.  It turns out he graduated after the war from the school that rose out of the ashes of Nichu.

He did not know me but his survivor’s heart – driven now for world peace and in honor of 300+ young classmates that perished – propelled him to our communicating.

After learning of my search for information on my father’s high school years, he found Ms. Tomoko Kanetou.  Ms. Kanetou is an administrative manager at Dad’s successor school.  Together, they tracked down an actual copy of dad’s yearbook from 1937.  It is the last copy in existence.  She conscientiously made high resolution scans of the 48 page yearbook and sent a CD to me here in the United States through my cousin Masako.

They did all this without pause.  For a complete stranger across the Pacific.  An American.  Just incredible.

In the middle picture is Dad’s track team with him at front row, center. Mr. Sekimoto, the one whose decision saved Mr. Tsukamoto, is in the bottom photo, standing next to the archer on the left.

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This past weekend, my oldest daughter hosted an early Father’s Day breakfast at her first home.  My father went through the yearbook I assembled page by page.  Not once.  Not twice…but for almost three hours during last Sunday morning.

He remembered the school song.  He said he was on their track team and won 1st or 2nd places in the 100m, 200m, broad jump and triple-jump.  He was even pictured, front and center, in Nichu’s track team yearbook photo (right).

Other pages struck me with disbelief and astonishment.  They gave a glimpse into life during the “pre-war” days in Hiroshima.  He talked about the influence of war on schooling.  That will be saved for a later story but further explains why his love and remembrances of his youngest brother are buried so deep in his hidden memories.

My ever-quiet father was not quiet that morning.  I have never heard him talk so much and for so long…  Truly an atomic spark from a 1937 yearbook.  All arising from a peace-fueled and unsolicited joint effort by complete strangers, Mr. Tsukamoto and Ms. Kanetou.  Perhaps they weren’t complete strangers after all.

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At day’s end with the yearbook… A smile the world’s supply of pistachios couldn’t buy.

In an earlier story, I praised old man Jack for being a giant in forgiving.

There are other giants in this world.

Mr. Tsukamoto, a survivor and Ms. Kanetou.

On behalf of my father, I thank you.

51 thoughts on “An Atomic Spark from a 1937 Yearbook”

  1. What an awesome story you will pass down to your children, and thank you for sharing it with us. It was gripping, and it was great to see the smile on your fathers face, Bravo!

  2. Thank you for the link to Mr. Tsukamoto’s story. I followed it and found his story sad and interesting. As an US Army child raised during the Cold War just a few miles away from East Germany with the threat of nuclear bombs hanging over our head, plus much much more – we studied nuclear war back then, starting when I was about 11. And learned that it, and biological or chemical warfare – war of any kind – is awful. Beyond words. I just wish the world could do without it.

    1. War is indeed awful, sir, as my dad said. Incidentally, old man Jack said the same thing. I am sorry that you had to endure the threat of nuclear war back then. Thank you for serving. The nation owes you an unpayable debt.

      1. (wry smile) They pay. I live on Social Security Disability due to injuries I got as a Marine. And we had a very strange childhood due to our military dad. When we were overseas they trained some of us to be child spies and ‘warriors’ just in case the USSR attacked. We were trained in some espianoge, tactics and techniques. We were told our fathers would probably die trying to hold back the enemy who had overwhelming forces. They told us kids to go to the Rheinmein Air Force base – but warned it would probably be a nuclear crater. If so go West until you hit the coast and try to get on a boat to the USA. “You will probably die along the way. Learn to stick together. Fight the enemy as best you can. Expect to die.”
        I was only 11. Born into the military, associated with them for 28 years . . and wish to God people would realize what a waste it all is.

    1. Thank you, hoofin’. I’m still very new to this “blog” stuff; I think just about a month. It appears that “reblogging” is like sharing? Gotta figure this all out… 🙂

  3. What an amazing story! Well researched, an excellent presentation with the photos and your explanations, well written too. So good to be able to read this about your Dad and his past. Thanks for sharing Koji.

    1. You would think each person that gets the opportunity to see this bomber in person will have their own thoughts and feelings. But since I first saw it in 2010, seeing it again would bring to the surface much different feelings knowing what I know now. Thanks for the visit.

  4. Thanks again for visiting my blog yesterday… I discovered yours. I have been sharing it on mine with my readers, and with another blogger who writes Pacificparatrooper. Gail’s father was with the 11th Airborne Division in the Philippines during the same period as your father’s brother. I knew little about that part of history.

    Again, words just can’t begin to describe this blog and Gail’s.

  5. I really hope that this will never happen again – this is one of the worst things that every happen in a war in my book. Suffering has gone on for generations ….

    1. I think suffering goes on for ages for anyone who experiences war – either on the combat front or the home front… Young men that do not come back to their families on either side.

  6. This is such a wonderful story, and how wonderful for you too, to connect with your own ancestral past and link it to your American soul now. For me, the forgiveness is in that blend of inner self; both parts of you have come together to lay it all to rest in your soul. Your father is a lucky man to have you.

    1. Thank you so much for reading the story… It is too long so more I appreciate you taking the time to do so! 🙂 It was indeed fortunate to have made the trip to Hiroshima and learn of my dad’s side of the family. I encourage anyone to do so while there is still time.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read the story. He’s at that stage in life where every time he finds it in his drawer, he can’t recall having seen it before. 🙂 But he goes through each time.

    1. It did spark some good memories for him for which I was happy. Most of his memory is gone now – except for those youthful days in Hiroshima in the 1930’s. Thank you, appletonavenue.

  7. As usual, a very moving post. I also went and read the transcript put together by some of the school survivors. I always wonder at the strength of people in such circumstances. I’m pleased to know so many of the survivors work for peace and not revenge.

    1. Wow, thank you again, appletonavenue… By the way, Mr. Tsukamoto – the man who replied to my email – was in the hospital again due to the effects of the bombing. Still, he does not dwell on it.

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