A 1937 Yearbook, the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima

(Please see An Atomic Spark and a 1937 Yearbook and Dad Was in the Newspaper for background information.)

There is living proof of forgiveness from a few – and they let out a resounding message of world peace for us.

My son Takeshi, second cousin Izumi and my cousin Masako at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

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It was an extreme emotional experience – not just for my oldest son Takeshi and I but for the kind souls who joyfully spent their afternoons with us on a hot September day in Hiroshima.  I was able to finally meet – and thank – the people who were kind enough to seek out my father’s 1937 high school yearbook and thereby give my father a joyous remembrance of his most happiest days of youth in the sunset of his long life.

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Not being a writer, putting this experience into words is an endeavor.  But on September 6, 2012, we were able to meet in person Mr. Tsukamoto, Ms. Kanetou, Ms. Tanaka and Mr. Aramaki.

From left: Ms. Tanaka of the Hiroshima Chugoku Shimbun newspaper, myself, Ms. Kanetou who tracked down my dad’s 1937 yearbook, my cousins Izumi and Masako, Mr. Tsukamoto who first answered my blind email and set things into motion, Mr. Aramaki our guide and my son Takeshi. Messrs. Tsukamoto and Aramaki are survivors of the atomic bombing.

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Any guided tour is exceptional.  A personally guided tour of a peace memorial and museum of a man-made event of unparalleled violence cannot be surpassed. Both gentlemen were severely burned as young children.  With all doctors killed in the city, they had to resort to mashed yam salve to soothe their wounds. (To see a VERY well written piece on their atomic experiences translated into English, please feel free to read it here.)  Imagine doing that yourself as a youngster.

They first pointed out where my father’s beloved high school, Nichuu, was situated in relation to the hypocenter.  It is one thing to see it on your monitor.  It is another thing to see it on a large wall map.  Overwhelming.  I knew it was close but it was not much further than one of my father’s triple jumps in Track and Field.  It ceased to exist – as did over 320 of their young classmates.

Mr. Aratani points to the now vacant square lot that was once his school – and my father’s.

By destiny, both men – young children at that time being forced into laboring for Japan’s war effort – were saved by the decision of their instructor, Mr. Sekimoto.  Mr. Sekimoto decided it would be best for small group of them (which included another one of my relatives) to clear a large parade ground to the southeast (東練兵場) for the next crop of sweet potatoes.  The other classmates were sent to work on building a firebreak near Nichu – which sealed their fate.  They were erased from the face of this earth in a second.

Mr. Aratani and Mr. Tsukamoto point out the Eastern Parade Ground to my cousin Masako where they were to pull weeds that fateful morning. I subsequently learned another relative of mine, Hitoshi Kubo, was also with them. His burns were more severe.

Due to time, we journeyed outside with these two 81 year old gentlemen for further education.  However, without any inference of what was right or what was wrong 70 years ago, just a couple of images from within the Memorial Museum:

My son Takeshi, I believe, was very focused on the many displays. I believe the message of the Peace Museum was completely absorbed into his psyche.

Messrs. Tsukamoto and Aratani guided us to the Nichuu High School Memorial, emblazoned with the 321 fellow students who perished.  As did Mr. Tsukamoto on August 6th, 2012, I offered water; my son Takeshi also without any urging whatsoever left his precious water bottle on that hot and humid day which is a glorious gesture.  There is a reason for the water as will be explained shortly.

Mr. Aratani, Mr. Tsukamoto and myself offer water to the Memorial and a prayer for their young Nichuu classmates and souls.  321 of them.
My son leaves his water bottle for the young souls.

We journeyed towards the cenotaph.  On the way through a park, Mr. Tsukamoto began to cry.  I asked him what was wrong.  He replied, “Your father is very fortunate to have family that think of his well-being.  My soul is now filled with joy.”  We hugged each other under the shade of a tree and cried together.  As it turns out, his father died at a young age; he was never able to thank his father for raising him through a most horrible period.

We arrived at the cenotaph; the inscription was designed and written by Mr. Tsubokawa’s and Aratani’s good friend, Prof. Saika Tadayoshi.  In English, it says, “For to repeat the fault we shall cease for we shall not repeat the evil.”  It was purposely written with no subject.  It is for the reader to decide.  Mr. Tsukamoto subsequently sent this image of the actual manuscript of Prof. Tadayoshi written in calligraphy (brush and carbon ink).

From Mr. Tsukamoto.

The Atomic Dome can be seen perfectly centered through the arch.  He explained the “eternal flame” is not truly meant to be eternal.  It is to be extinguished when all nuclear weapons are abolished.

Cenotaph

Just beyond the cenotaph can be seen a pool of refreshing water.  The water symbolizes all the cries for water from the victims who survived the atomic blast.  Nearly all would perish.  Remember the water we poured on Nichu’s Memorial Stone?

We then walked to the actual hypocenter.  The atomic bomb exploded about 1,900 feet directly above.

The atomic bomb exploded directly above this spot.

There are several rivers flowing through Hiroshima.  We all know through books that the rivers were engorged with corpses and debris.  However, there are no photos in existence as it was when the city was destroyed.  There was no film let alone medical care.  However, before the US scientists came to measure radiation levels about two months later, a huge typhoon hit the devastated city.  While the rain tore through the rivers carrying the corpses out to sea, the rain also largely washed away radiation levels.  Therefore, when the US scientists did measure the radiation levels, it was tremendously lower than what it truly was.  You won’t find that written in any of our school history books.

This river was engorged with victims and were washed out to sea by a huge typhoon. There are no photos of this horrible scene as witnessed by our two survivors.

We returned from the very enlightening tour to join Masako, Izumi, Ms. Kanetou and Ms. Tanaka.  My father was bestowed with many kind gifts one of which was a compilation of years past of Nichu – including images of when dad’s class was digging the pool at the school in the early 30’s.  But lastly, as a small token of peace, fellow blogger Seapunk2 sent me some artistic pieces representing peace and serenity.  One was presented Ms. Kanetou.  I explained it to her that the artist said a sense of peace may be coming “…directly from her actions. You may feel the spirit contained within them.  (I) sat so long and quietly, collecting those tiny pieces, sometimes with tweezers. It’s a beautiful experience, to listen to the shore birds, seals, waves and take in the Pacific while I gather the otherwise unnoticed gifts from the earth and sea. Then, once I got the idea for containing them, that, too, was peaceful and gave me a lovely sense of satisfaction…”

Peace token from seapunk2!

Lastly, in a photo discovery made just a few hours before meeting them, I came across a photo of dad taken in 1937 soon after he arrived back in Seattle after spending ten years in Hiroshima and graduating from Nichu.  He’s sporting his Nichu varsity sweater.  The attendees were overjoyed to see Dad’s pride in Nichu – even across the ocean.

Dad in his pride and joy Nichu varsity sweater taken in Seattle, 1937. You can also see his bent right elbow. That is another discovery story.

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The men were burned severely as children working in a field for their country’s victory.  While their country lost, it was but a moment in their lifetime.  They still attained victory for the world.

More to come on one family, two countries and World War II.

55 thoughts on “A 1937 Yearbook, the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima”

  1. Mustang.Koji….I cannot imagine what these men and their friends and family lived through. We need to hear and read their stories. We need for this to never happen again. I hope the flame is extinguished in our life time, never needing lit again. Thank you for sharing this story, the pictures, and the emotions.

  2. A beautiful post. Thank you. The memorial park was very moving for myself and my partner, two people with no background in Hiroshima, Japan nor Asia. I can only imagine what it was like to be in the place of your father’s youth. I hope you have memories to pass on to your grandchildren.

  3. The trip of a lifetime with your son. As always, you mix history with the present and allow us to learn while we share your experience. Very nice my friend!

      1. I don’t think you mean to open it like the glass tube? I gave it to her the second morning in Tokyo in a little box along with another gift. She opened them when she got home and thanked me on the third morning first thing! She’s a cutie pie, too.

  4. This is such a powerful and personal story I can barely contain myself. I am impressed by so many aspects of what you discovered. That the memorial is called a “Peace” memorial is indicative of the courage of the Japanese people. I already know that my mind cannot grasp the horror of what occurred, and to think that these dear men have survived to be emotionally stable, strong, kind men…I’m in awe. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that the doctors would all have been killed. I never thought of the injured taking responsibilities for their own wounds and recovery. Bottom line, you make me think long and hard with this post. I so badly want to believe that we will one day disarm all nuclear weaponry. I fear that is but a dream, but oh how I wish that were a reality! I will be thinking about this post for a long time to come. Debra

    1. I cannot thank you enough for your stopping by and your feelings… That is exactly what their message is. Not of what was right or wrong 70 years ago but what is best for the future… 🙂 That is the message these two 81 year old survivors are seeking as well as my relatives.

  5. I agree with Chatter Master – I also pray that we may see that flame extinguished in our life time…I don’t think I will ever forget the pictures you posted, nor should I – we should all remember and learn from the survivors. Blessings – Patty

    1. Thank you so much for your heartfelt comments and feelings. They moved on with their lives – even salvaged them – and I will honor their message of a nuclear weapon-free world in the future.

      1. It starts with one person…and reminds me of the song “Let There Be Peace On Earth” and I can’t think of a more honorable people to honor than the survivors and the ones that lost their lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

        “Let there be peace on earth
        and let it begin with me
        Let There Be Peace on Earth
        The peace that was meant to be

        With God as our Father
        Brothers all are we
        Let me walk with my brother
        In perfect harmony……”

  6. Amazing story Koji, thanks for retelling it. I was about your sons age when I visited the Peace Memorial on the 45th anniversary of the bombing and I’ve always retold the story as it was one of those days that changed my life. I traveled there with my friend Mayumi’s Mom. I’ll never forget the museum then our walk to the dome. It was very emotional and I was in a zombie like state by the end overwhelmed by it all. It is a very powerful place. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not you can’t help but feel the emotion all around. It might be from every one there in the present or it could be from those who have passed, but it is real! I still need to get those photos scanned and posted.

    1. It is quite the experience. What is unbelievable is that these two survivors (and three if you count my relative) were able to set their anger aside. They seek no pity. All they seek is a message of peace. Thanks for reading, Keith, and your sentiments/experiences.

    1. I”m sure very little if just a paragraph or two. When I went to public school in the 60’s here, three of my instructors were Marines who were in the Pacific. They showed no hatred nor discrimination towards me. In ’64, I remember my teacher cried in front of class when she announced MacArthur passed away.

      Our history textbook back then had many pages (if not a chapter or two) on WWII – even describing how Japanese soldiers were rarely captured (which wasn’t true towards the end of the war).

      On the other hand, I looked at my 6th grader’s textbook. The number of pages on WWII has diminished considerably. Of course, it mentions Pearl Harbor, the bombing of London, the atomic bombing only (omits Dresden and Tokyo) and the surrender. Unbelievably, there was a brief mention of the Japanese-American imprisonment.

  7. I don’t know how I missed this Koji. It has been up for months, but I only just saw it. Forgive me. It is a facinating and moving post, thank you or sharing this history. Also you modestly say you are not a writer… and then you write these words which are delivered seemingly without effort yet convey so much;

    “Mr. Sekimoto decided it would be best for small group of them (which included another one of my relatives) to clear a large parade ground to the southeast (東練兵場) for the next crop of sweet potatoes. The other classmates were sent to work on building a firebreak near Nichu – which sealed their fate. They were erased from the face of this earth in a second.”

    Those few sentences sum up much of the horror – that civilians were going about their routine daily business when in an instant everything changed forever. We all know that during WWII civilians in many parts of the world were in the frontline but at Hiroshima that was taken to a new and horrific level, and one without warning or without comparison until Nagasaki. And so it remains.

    Excellent write up Koji, and apologies again for having missed it.

    Ian

  8. Reblogged this on THE RED KIMONO and commented:
    If you want to know what it was like that day, 70 years ago, when the bomb was dropped, read this.

    Koji says he’s not a writer, but in stories like this one about his family’s history in Hiroshima, I beg to disagree.

  9. Seventy years and 5,000 miles can provide enough distance that we may not always look at the personal impact of such a horrific event. Thank you for writing this story and posting pictures, Koji.

    I’ll admit, before I visited the memorial, I thought of that day as a day in our history books, as a day that had to happen to end the war. But after my visit, it became more real and I thought to myself that we should never, ever use such a weapon again.

    Your stories of your family make the event even more real. And Koji, I beg to differ…you ARE a writer.

    1. You are a very kind person, Jan. Thanks for the reblog, first of all and second, for your feelings about the bomb. I still cannot get over how these survivors can have but forgiveness in the hearts.

  10. I read this before, so I knew it deserved another visit. How noble of Takeshi to follow the traditions and leave his water bottle – you have a great son there, Koji.

    1. Thank you for taking a look at their story, Hilary. It was a very good translation… And can you please insert a link to your blog? I’m sure it’s just me but I just can’t get to your blog… 😦

    1. The whole world suffered, yes? And the sad thing is people are now unaware of the magnitude of the unknown courage shown by folks of that period… from the parents giving the small amount of food they could find to their children to the young sailor taking a dozen Marines to the invasion beach to enslaved prisoners…

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