Tsutomu Yamaguchi witnessed at close hand the nuclear devastation of two Japanese cities, and lived to tell the tale. Now it will be left to others to tell his incredible story after his death at 93. Yamaguchi, the only person officially recognised as a survivor of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, died on … Continued
Tsutomu Yamaguchi witnessed at close hand the nuclear devastation of two Japanese cities, and lived to tell the tale. Now it will be left to others to tell his incredible story after his death at 93.
Yamaguchi, the only person officially recognised as a survivor of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, died on January 6, 2010, of stomach cancer at a hospital in Nagasaki, his family said today.
The mayor of Nagasaki said “a precious storyteller has been lost”.
Yamaguchi, then an engineer for the shipbuilder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was in Hiroshima on a business trip on 6 August 1945 when an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb on the city, killing 80,000 people instantly and another 60,000 in the months that followed. The badly burned Yamaguchi, who was less than two miles from the blast, spent the night in an air raid shelter before returning home to Nagasaki, 180 miles away, two days later.
He was in Nagasaki on 9 August when a nuclear bomb devastated the city, killing an estimated 70,000 people. Japan surrendered less than a week later.
He, his wife and baby son survived and spent the following week in a shelter.
After the war Yamaguchi worked as a translator for the US forces in Nagasaki and later became a teacher. He did not speak publicly about his past until the death in 2005 of his second son – who was six months old at the time of the Nagasaki bombing – from cancer, aged 59.
“My double radiation exposure is now an official government record,” he told the Mainichi newspaper last year. “It can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die. I could have died on either of those two days. Everything that follows is a bonus.”
In recent years he talked openly about life as a double A-bomb survivor and became a vocal supporter of nuclear disarmament. He wrote books and songs about his experiences, and in 2006 made a speech at the UN in New York to mark the release of Niju Hibaku (Double Irradiation), a documentary about him and other people who had lived through both nuclear attacks.
Although 165 people are known to have lived through both attacks, Yamaguchi is the only one to have been officially recognised as a survivor twice over.
“Having experienced atomic bombings twice and survived, it is my destiny to talk about it,” he told the UN.
He was visited in hospital by the film director James Cameron, who is considering making a film about the bombings.
Yamaguchi’s copy of the Atomic Bomb Victim Health Handbook, issued in 1957, entitled him and 260,000 other survivors to monthly allowances, free medical checkups and funeral costs.
Although the handbook confirmed he was within a three-kilometre radius of ground zero in both cities, reference to Hiroshima was deleted when he renewed it at Nagasaki city hall in 1960.
After refusing to grant him special double-survivor status because it would not affect his entitlements, officials relented, making him the first and so far only survivor of both attacks to be recognised by the authorities.
The blasts deprived him of the hearing in his left ear, but Yamaguchi’s family said he was in relatively good health for most of his life. In later years he battled acute leukaemia, cataracts and other radiation-related ailments.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi’s Poetry (Tanka)Carbonized bodies face-down in the nuclear wastelandall the Buddhas died,and never heard what killed them.Thinking of myself as a phoenix,cling on until now.But how painful they have been,those twenty-four years past.If there exists a GOD who protectsnuclear-free eternal peacethe blue earth won’t perish.
A source to consult on the writing of Tsutomu Yamaguchi
Diehl, Chad. And the River Flowed as a Raft of Corpses: The Poetry of Yamaguchi Tsutomu, Survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With a foreword by Donald Keene. (New York: Excogitating Over Coffee Publishing, 2010).
Chad Diehl, a Columbia University doctoral candidate, introduces Raft of Corpses as the first official translation of the tanka poetry of Yamaguchi Tsutomu (1916-2010), a survivor of both atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Chad lived with Yamaguchi in Nagasaki during the summer of 2009 to gain insight and instruction in order to create the most accurate translations possible. Chad includes in the book a lengthy introductory essay about Yamaguchi’s experience to provide essential context for the poems, and he has also written a preface in Japanese for Japanese readers.
“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me to Nagasaki,” Yamaguchi recalled decades after the bombings as he tried to explain his incredulity at the terrifying déjà vu. Yamaguchi’s testimony of those days and subsequent years living with the physical and psychological trauma characterize the theme of his poems translated in Raft of Corpses. The paradox of surviving two atomic bombs to live on for six decades stirs in the readers of Yamaguchi’s tanka poems simultaneous feelings of awe, disbelief, horror, sympathy, and hope.
The poetry included in Raft of Corpses “passes the baton” carried by Yamaguchi to relay the experience of the atomic bombings and spread a message of the importance of world peace and the necessity to abolish nuclear weapons. In that spirit, Chad has selected and translated a total of sixty-five of Yamaguchi’s tanka poems to commemorate the sixty-fifth anniversary of the bombings this year (2010). The book also includes numerous photographs and images of Yamaguchi’s hand-written poems and calligraphy. Some of Yamaguchi’s paintings add an additional layer to the book, and Chad hopes that the many poems included that do not address the bombings will provide readers with a better understanding of Yamaguchi’s life and personality.
Donald Keene, Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at Columbia University, writes in the foreword, “Chad Diehl has translated some of Mr. Yamaguchi’s poems. The translations transmit the horror of the two terrible explosions and the disfigured dead. He has kept as close to the originals as possible, but remembering Mr. Yamaguchi’s fondness for rhymed poetry, he has effectively used rhyme in some of the translations. It could not have been easy to translate these poems, but Mr. Diehl, who knew Mr. Yamaguchi well, felt impelled to make these translations, the most fitting tribute to his memory.”
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