Testimonials from the Bombing of Hiroshima

What follows are eye-witness accounts of the bombing of Hiroshima, which were collected for the video Hiroshima Witness, produced by the Hiroshima Peace Cultural Center and NHK, Japanese Broadcasting.  The first atomic bomb used in war time was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945.  It killed between 130,000-150,000 people by the end of that year.  Those who survived the bombing are rapidly aging now after struggling for many years.  The Hiroshima Peace and Cultural Foundation collected almost 100 testimonies of A-bomb victims to record the experiences of these survivors.

The illustrations accompanying the testimonials here are part of the book Unforgettable Fire.  The book began as a call to survivors of the A-bomb to submit original art work based on personal experiences of having survived the nuclear bombings (Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Hiroshi Sawachika

Mr. Hiroshi Sawachika was 28 years old when the bomb was dropped. He was an army doctor stationed at the army headquarters in Ujina. When he was exposed, he was inside the building at the headquarters, 4.1 km from the hypocenter. Being rather far from the hypocenter, he was not seriously injured. Afterwards, he was very busy getting medical treatment to the survivors.

MR. SAWACHIKA: I was in my office. I had just entered the room and said "Good morning." to colleagues and I was about to approach my desk when outside it suddenly turned bright red. I felt very hot on my cheeks. Being the chief of the room, I shouted to the young men and women in the room that they should evacuate. As soon as I cried, I felt weightless as if I were an astronaut. I was then unconscious for 20 or 30 seconds. When I came to, I realized that everybody including myself was lying at one side of the room. Nobody was standing. The desks and chairs had also blown off to one side. At the windows, there was no window glass and the window frames had been blown out as well. I went to the windows to find out where the bombing had taken place. And I saw the mushroom cloud over the gas company. The sound and shock somehow suggested that the bomb had been dropped right over the gas company. I still had no idea what had happened. And I kept looking towards the gas company. After a while, I realized that my white shirt was red all over. I thought it was funny because I was not injured at all. I looked around and then realized that the girl lying near by was heavily injured, with lots of broken glass stuck all over her body. Her blood had splashed and made stains on my shirt. In a few minutes, I heard my name called. I was told to go to the headquarters where there were lots of injured persons waiting. I went there and I started to give treatment with the help of nurses and medical course men. We first treated the office personnel for their injuries. Most of them had broken glass and pieces of wood stuck into them. We treated them one after another. Afterwards, we heard the strange noise. It sounded as if a large flock of mosquitoes were coming from a distance. We looked out of the window to find out what was happening. We saw that citizens from the town were marching towards us. They looked unusual. We understood that the injured citizens were coming towards us for treatment. But while, we thought that there should be Red Cross Hospitals and another big hospitals in the center of the town. So why should they come here, I wondered, instead of going there. At that time, I did not know that the center of the town had been so heavily damaged. After a while, with the guide of the hospital personnel, the injured persons reached our headquarters. With lots of injured people arriving, we realized just how serious the matter was. We decided that we should treat them also. Soon afterwards, we learned that many of them had badly burned. As they came to us, they held their hands aloft. They looked like they were ghosts. We made the tincture for that treatment by mixing edible peanut oil and something. We had to work in a mechanical manner in order to treat so many patients. We provided one room for the heavily injured and another for the slightly injured. A treatment was limited to the first aid because there were no facilities for the patients to be hospitalized. Later on, when I felt that I could leave the work to other staff for a moment, I walked out of the treatment room and went into the another room to see what had happened. When I stepped inside, I found the room filled with the smell that was quite similar to the smell of dried squid when it has been grilled. The smell was quite strong. It's a sad reality that the smell human beings produce when they are burned is the same as that of the dried squid when it is grilled. The squid - we like so much to eat. It was a strange feeling, a feeling that I had never had before. I can still remember that smell quite clearly. Afterwards, I came back to the treatment room and walked through the roads of people who were either seriously injured or waiting to be treated. When I felt someone touch my leg, it was a pregnant woman. She said that she was about to die in a few hours. She said, "I know that I am going to die. But I can feel that my baby is moving inside. It wants to get out of the room. I don't mind if I had died. But if the baby is delivered now, it does not have to die with me. Please help my baby live." There were no obstetricians there. There was no delivery room. There was no time to take care of her baby. All I could do was to tell her that I would come back later when everything was ready for her and her baby. Thus I cheered her up and she looks so happy. But I have to return to the treatment work. So I resumed to work taking care of the injured one by one. There were so many patients. I felt as if I was fighting against the limited time. It was late in the afternoon towards the evening. And image of that pregnant woman never left my mind. Later, I went to the place where I had found her before, she was still there lying in the same place. I patted her on the shoulder, but she said nothing. The person lying next to her said that a short while ago, she had become silent. I still recalled this incident partly because I was not able to fulfill the last wish of this dying young woman. I also remember her because I had a chance to talk with her however short it was.

INTERVIEWER: How many patients did you treat on August 6?

ANSWER: Well, at least 2 or 3 thousand on that very day if you include those patients whom I gave directions to. I felt that as if once that day started, it never ended. I had to keep on and on treating the patients forever. It was the longest day of my life. Later on, when I had time to reflect on that day, I came to realize that we, doctors learned a lot through the experience, through the suffering of all those people. It's true that the lack of medical knowledge, medical facilities, integrated organization and so on prevented us from giving sufficient medical treatment. Still there was a lot for us, medical doctors to learn on that day. I learned that the nuclear weapons which gnaw the minds and bodies of human beings should never be used. Even the slightest idea using nuclear arms should be completely exterminated the minds of human beings. Otherwise, we will repeat the same tragedy. And we will never stop being ashamed of ourselves.

Yosaku Mikami

Mr. Yosaku Mikami was 32 years old when he was exposed. When the bomb was exploded, he was on a streetcar which was running in Sendamachi, 1.9 km from the hypocenter. He was a fireman. On the morning of August 6, he was on his way back from the night duty to Ujina going to his home in Sakaemachi. The rest of his family was all evacuated one day before.

I was stationed at Ujina fire station. Our duty was to work 24 hours from 8 o'clock in the morning to 8 o'clock in the following morning. We were divided into 2 groups for the shifts. On that day, August 6, I was just about to leave work and go home at 8 o'clock in the morning. Shortly before it, the all clear was sounded. So I started to go home to Sakaemachi. When I reached the streetcar stop, I found out that I had missed the car by just a few minutes. So I had to wait about ten minutes more before I got on the next car. The car passed through Miyuki Bashi and was approaching the train office, when I saw the blue flash from the window. At the same time, smoke filled the car which prevented me even from seeing person standing directly in front of me. In about half an hour, I went out of the car. I noticed that the fire was burning everywhere. The sky was dull as it covered by clouds. I decided to go back to work and I ran back to the fire station. There was nothing to drink at all. Can you see there is a streetcar over there near the fire station? When I reached that corner, I jumped onto the fire truck with my colleagues who were on duty on that day. I joined them. We drove along the trouble way but we had to return to the fire station soon because there was too much fire and we couldn't do anything at all. When we were on our way back to the station, and approaching the office of the Tobacco and Salt Public Corporation, we found that the warehouse was on fire. So we stopped there and went inside to put out the fire. When the fire had come down, we decided to go to the main fire station to find out what had happened. We passed by the Miyuki Bridge. It was so hot as the result of the heat produced by the fire. The electric-light poles burned down. All of us wore raincoats to protect us from the fire. We also wore caps for the same purpose. Using buckets, we threw water over ourselves when we reached the water tanks. Finally, we reached the main fire station. I guess that about 5 or 6 of my coworkers were there already. Then we were told to take care of the seriously injured. We drove a chief to a hospital and then we drove towards Miyuki Bridge and Takano Bridge, where we found a lot of people dying. There were about 4 or 5 firemen on the fire truck. The men in good condition were clinging to the side of the car. We heard many people swearing, screaming, shouting, asking for help. Since our order was to help the most heavily injured, we searched for them. We tried to open the eyes of the injured and we found out they were still alive. We tried to carry them by their arms and legs and to place them onto the fire truck. But this was difficult because their skin was peeled off as we tried to move them. They were all heavily burned. But they never complained but they felt pain even when their skin was peeling off. We carried the victims to the prefectural hospital. Soon afterwards, the hospital was full, so then we carried the injured to the Akatsuki Military Hospital. On the following day, we decided to visit the small fire stations throughout the town. I believe there were about 20 or 30 small stations with only 7 or 8 firemen each. Those small stations were temporary place near police stations and city halls during war time. The workers stationed at the important places were all killed. I visited one of the fire stations and inside the burned fire engine, I found a man who was scorched to death. He looked as if he was about to start the fire engine to fight the fire. Inside the broken building, I also found several dead men. I guess they were trapped inside the building. Many of my colleagues who survived on that day died one month later. Some of them lost their hair before their death. Yes. There were lots of firemen who died one or one and half months later. I feel very sorry for them. I also feel deeply sorry for those who lost their families. I sincerely hope that there would be no more nuclear war.

Isao Kita

Mr. Isao Kita was 33 years old when the bomb fell. He was working for the Hiroshima District Weather Bureau 3.7 km from the hypocenter. He was the chief weather man and his shift fell on August 5 to 6. He kept observing the weather even after he was exposed.

MR. KITA: Well, at that time, I happened to be receiving the transmission over the wireless. I was in the receiving room and I was facing northward. I noticed the flashing light. It was not really a big flash. But still it drew my attention. In a few seconds, the heat wave arrived. After I noticed the flash, white clouds spread over the blue sky. It was amazing. It was as if blue morning-glories had suddenly bloomed up in the sky. It was funny, I thought. Then came the heat wave. It was very very hot. Even though there was a window glass in front of me, I felt really hot. It was as if I was looking directly into a kitchen oven. I couldn't bear the heat for a long time. Then I heard the cracking sound. I don't know what made that sound, but probably it came from the air which suddenly expanded in the room. By that time, I realized that the bomb had been dropped. As I had been instructed, I pushed aside the chair and lay with my face on the floor. Also as I had been instructed during the frequent emergency exercises, I covered my eyes and ears with hands like this. And I started to count. You may feel that I was rather heartless just to start counting. But for us, who observed the weather, it is a duty to record the process of time, of various phenomena. So I started counting with the light flash. When I counted to 5 seconds, I heard the groaning sound. At the same time, the window glass was blown off and the building shook from the bomb blast. So the blast reached that place about 5 seconds after the explosion. We later measured the distance between the hypocenter and our place. And with these two figures, we calculated that the speed of the blast was about 700 meters per second. The speed of sound is about 330 meters per second, which means that the speed of the blast was about twice as fast as the speed of sound. It didn't move as fast as the speed of light but it moved quite rapidly. There is a path which leads by here over there. And on that day, a large number of injured persons walked this way along the path toward the Omi Hospital. They were bleeding all over and some of them had no clothes. Many of them were carrying people on their shoulders. Looking at the injured, I realized how seriously the town had been damaged. The fire was its peak at around that time. It thundered 10 times between 10 and 11 o'clock. The sound of thunder itself was not so great but still I could see the lightning over the fire. When I looked down on the town from the top of that hill, I could see that the city was completely lost. The city turned into a yellow sand. It turned yellow, the color of the yellow desert.

INTERVIEWER: Was this before the fire broke out?

ANSWER: Yes. The town looked yellowish. The smoke was so thick that it covered the entire town. After about 5 minutes, fire broke out here and there. The fire gradually grew bigger and there were smoke everywhere and so we could no longer see towards the town. The cloud of the smoke was very tall, but it didn't come in this direction at all. The cloud moved in that direction from the ocean towards Hiroshima Station. It moved towards the north.The smoke from the fire, it was like a screen dividing the city into two parts. The sun was shining brightly just like it was a middle of the summer over here on this side. And behind the cloud on the other side, it was completely dark. The contrast was very much. So about 60 or 70 % of the sky was covered by the cloud and the other 30 % was completely clear. It was a bright clear blue sky. The condition had remained like this for some time. From Koi, looking towards Hiroshima Station, you could see the black rain falling. But from here, I couldn't judge how much rain was falling. But based on the information I heard later, it seems that the rain fell quite heavy over a period of several hours. It was a black and sticky rain. It stuck everything. When it fell on trees and leaves, it stayed and turned everything black. When it fell on people's clothing, the clothing turned black. It also stuck on people's hands and feet. And it couldn't be washed off. I couldn't be washed off. I couldn't see what was taking place inside the burning area. But I was able to see the extent of the area which was on fire. Based on the information which came later, it seems that the center of the town suffered the worst damage. The atomic bomb does not discriminate. Of course, those who were fighting may have to suffer. But the atomic bomb kills everyone from little babies to old people. And it's not an easy death. It's a very cruel and very painful way to die. I think that this cannot be allowed to happen again anywhere in the world. I don't say this just because I'm a Japanese atomic bomb survivor. I feel that people all over the world must speak out.

Akiko Takakura

Ms. Akiko Takakura was 20 years old when the bomb fell. She was in the Bank of Hiroshima, 300 meters away from the hypocenter. Ms. Takakura miraculously escaped death despite over 100 lacerated wounds on her back. She is one of the few survivors who was within 300 meters of the hypocenter. She now runs a kindergarten and she relates her experience of the atomic bombing to children.

TAKAKURA: After the air-raid the alarm was called off, I walked from Hatchobori to the Bank of Hiroshima in Kamiya-cho. I arrived at the bank some time around 8:15 or so, and signed my name in the attendance book. When I was doing my morning routine, dusting the desks and things like that, the A-bomb was dropped. All I remember was that I saw something flash suddenly.

INTERVIEWER: Can you explain the flash?

TAKAKURA: Well, it was like a white magnesium flash. I lost consciousness right after or almost at the same time I saw the flash. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the dark. I heard my friends, Ms. Asami, crying for her mother. Soon after, I found out that we actually had been attacked. Afraid of being caught by a fire, I told Ms. Asami to run out of the building. Ms. Asami, however, just told me to leave her and to try to escape by myself because she thought that she couldn't make it anywhere. She said she couldn't move. I said to her that I couldn't leave her, but she said that she couldn't even stand up. While we were talking, the sky started to grow lighter. Then, I heard water running in the lavatory. Apparently the water pipes had exploded. So I drew water with my helmet to pour over Ms. Asami's head again and again. She finally regained consciousness fully and went out of the building with me. We first thought to escape to the parade grounds, but we couldn't because there was a huge sheet of fire in front of us. So instead, we squatted down in the street next to a big water pool for fighting fires, which was about the size of this table. Since Hiroshima was completely enveloped in flames, we felt terribly hot and could not breathe well at all. After a while, a whirlpool of fire approached us from the south. It was like a big tornado of fire spreading over the full width of the street. Whenever the fire touched, wherever the fire touched, it burned. It burned my ear and leg, I didn't realize that I had burned myself at that moment, but I noticed it later.

INTERVIEWER: So the fire came towards you?

TAKAKURA: Yes, it did. The whirlpool of fire that was covering the entire street approached us from Ote-machi. So, everyone just tried so hard to keep away from the fire. It was just like a living hell. After a while, it began to rain. The fire and the smoke made us so thirsty and there was nothing to drink, no water, and the smoke even disturbed our eyes. As it began to rain, people opened their mouths and turned their faces towards the sky and try to drink the rain, but it wasn't easy to catch the rain drops in our mouths. It was a black rain with big drops.

INTERVIEWER: How big were the rain drops?

TAKAKURA: They were so big that we even felt pain when they dropped onto us. We opened our mouths just like this, as wide as possible in an effort to quench our thirst. Everybody did the same thing. But it just wasn't enough. Someone, someone found an empty can and held it to catch the rain.

INTERVIEWER: I see. Did the black rain actually quench your thirst?

TAKAKURA: No, no it didn't. Maybe I didn't catch enough rain, but I still felt very thirsty and there was nothing I could do about it. What I felt at that moment was that Hiroshima was entirely covered with only three colors. I remember red, black and brown, but, but, nothing else. Many people on the street were killed almost instantly. The fingertips of those dead bodies caught fire and the fire gradually spread over their entire bodies from their fingers. A light gray liquid dripped down their hands, scorching their fingers. I, I was so shocked to know that fingers and bodies could be burned and deformed like that. I just couldn't believe it. It was horrible. And looking at it, it was more than painful for me to think how the fingers were burned, hands and fingers that would hold babies or turn pages, they just, they just burned away. For a few years after the A-bomb was dropped, I was terribly afraid of fire. I wasn't even able to get close to fire because all my senses remembered how fearful and horrible the fire was, how hot the blaze was, and how hard it was to breathe the hot air. It was really hard to breathe. Maybe because the fire burned all the oxygen, I don't know. I could not open my eyes enough because of the smoke, which was everywhere. Not only me but everyone felt the same. And my parts were covered with holes.

Taeko Teramae

Ms. Taeko Teramae was 15 years old when the bomb was dropped. She was in the central telephone office, 0.5 kilometers away from the hypocenter. Many mobilized students were working in the central telephone center that day. Some 7000 mobilized students were killed by the A-bomb in the city of Hiroshima.

TERAMAE: When the bomb fell, I was 15 years old. I was a third grader at the girls' junior high school. I saw something shining in the clear blue sky. I wondered what it was, so I stared at it. As the light grew bigger, the shining thing got bigger as well. And at the moment when I spoke to my friend,there was a flash, far brighter than one used for a camera. It exploded right in front of my eyes. There was a tremendous noise when all the buildings around me collapsed. I also heard people crying for help and for their mothers. I was caught under something which prevented me from moving freely. I was so shocked that I couldn't believe what had happened. I thought maybe I was having some kind of nightmare, but of course, I wasn't. I felt pain when I pinched myself to see if it was real. I thought the bomb had been dropped on the central telephone office. The dust was rising and something sandy and slimy entered my mouth. I couldn't figure out what it was since I couldn't move or see. I couldn't see anything in the dark. A little later, I smelt something like sulfur. It smelt like the volcano, Mt. Aso and I threw up. I heard more voices calling ``Mother! Mother!'' But when our class teacher, Mr.Wakita, told us to behave like good students and stop crying, all the cries for help and for Mother stopped all of a sudden. We began to calm down and try to behave as Mr. Wakita told us to. I tried very hard to move my arms and my legs and finally I was able to move a little. I was so surprised to see the dark sky with all the red flames through the window because it was only a few minutes before when the sky was blue and clear. It was all quiet and the city was wrapped, enveloped in red flames. Mr. Wakita came to help me. He asked me if I wanted to swim across the river. The bridge was burning and the river was very high. I had no choice. I could barely see by then, though. And Mr. Wakita took my arms and told me to swim across the river together with him, so together we went into the river and began to swim. When we reached the middle of the river, I could no longer see anything and I was starting to feel faint. And as I began to feel faint, I also began to lose control. Mr. Wakita encouraged me and helped me to reach the other side of the river. Finally, we reached the other side. What surprised me so much was that all the cries of the students for help and for their mothers. It just didn't stop. I couldn't see anything. All I could do was listen to their cries. I asked my teacher, I asked him what was going on. Mr. Wakita explained to me how the high school students were burnt and crouching in pain in the streets. I couldn't see anything. There were many students who were mobilized to destroy buildings to widen the streets and the area of Tsurumi Bridge, City Hall and the Chugoku Newspaper on that day. And since they were outside, they were directly exposed to the bomb. Many of them died, many of them died right there. Someone called for help in vain, and some jumped into the river and drown to death. If my teacher, Mr. Wakita had not come to help me, I would have died in the river.

INTERVIEWER: How were your wounds?

TERAMAE: If my wounds had been on my arms or my legs, I would have known it was, but my wounds were on my face, so I had no idea for some time. I just didn't know. I asked my parents how I looked, but they just said that I had only minor wounds. They didn't tell me the truth. After I got better, I found a piece of mirror and looked into it. I was so surprised I found my left eye looked just like a pomegranate, and I also found cuts on my right eye and on my nose and on my lower jaw. It was horrible. I was very shocked to find myself looking like a monster. I even wished I had died with my sisters. I was just overcome with apprehension when I thought about it.

INTERVIEWER: What is your biggest hope or dream now that you want to realize?

TERAMAE: Well, my hope is to have a comprehensive meeting of A-bomb survivors. That's what I want. We had such a meeting the other day and in that meeting, both male and female A-bomb survivors repeatedly said that they wanted their health back again, even for just one day. They said they can't even wear short sleeve shirts because of the scars on their arms left from the bomb. Lonely A-bomb survivors include those who lost their families and also the mobilized students who have remained single because of the wounds caused by the A-bomb. There are great many of them. So, I do hope to do something to support always lonely people.


Sources: To read more testimonies go to the Voice of Hibakusha: http://www.inicom.com/hibakusha/index.html.
Japanese Broadcasting Corporation.  Unforgetable Fire: Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb Survivors (Pantheon Books, 1981).