For Sachiko Tanaka, her battered Japanese dictionary, the Kojirin, is not just any other lexicon.
It was something Tanaka read in her bed under the covers during blackouts throughout World War II, something she had in her hands when the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and something she turned to when she wrote tanka poetry, her hobby, after the war.
More than 70 years after the war, Tanaka, 89, donated the precious Kojirin to the Peace Memorial Museum last summer, believing it should be preserved.
“It survived the flames and lived with me for so long,” she said.
Tanaka was a 16-year-old student at Yasuda Girls’ High School on the day of the atomic bombing, studying at home in what is now Hiroshima’s Naka Ward, because she was sick.
A strong, white-blue light flashed on that day all of a sudden, and before she knew it, she became unconscious. When she came to a while later, she found herself crouched under the desk with the dictionary in her hand.
The house — about 1.8 km from ground zero — had collapsed. When she stuck her head up through the roof and called for help, a man walking by pulled her out, along with the dictionary.
Tanaka stood there, stunned.
Kikuyo, Tanaka’s mother, who had been hanging laundry, was covered with burns on the upper half of her body. With the houses all around also destroyed and nothing to block the view, Hijiyama Hill looked larger than ever.
Then a man with a burned face, naked to his waist, came near.
“It’s me,” he said.
Tanaka recognized the voice. It was her father, Tamaichi, who had left for work that morning.
With the family reunited, they sought shelter at Hiroshima University of Literature and Science (now Hiroshima University).
When they went to check their home in the evening, they found that their toppled home had escaped the flames and that her uncle was waiting there. The body of Tanaka’s cousin, who was a year younger, was on the ground.
“She’s dead. We have to cremate her,” the uncle said.
As they cremated the body, Tanaka, for a split second, thought it shuddered in the fire.
“Uncle, she’s still alive!” Tanaka yelled.
“No, she’s dead,” he replied.
She was strangely convinced by his words, and the family gathered up her ashes the next day.
Treating her parents’ burns was also an urgent task.
Tanaka took her parents to Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital for treatment, but all the doctors could do was apply antiseptics.
Around Aug. 9, another cousin of hers came searching for them. Tanaka put her parents on a two-wheeled handcart and brought them to the village of Kujima, now part of the city of Hatsukaichi, where her maternal grandparents lived.
Tanaka’s parents had acute radiation sickness that caused them to develop bruises on their bodies. But they managed to survive and their condition improved.
What was most shocking for Tanaka was that all of her hair fell out in just one day.
Her cousin tried to cheer her up, wrapping her head in a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth. About six months later, her hair began to grow again, which Tanaka described later as “one of the happiest moments of my life.”
Tanaka went on to college and became an elementary school teacher.
After being turned down when her family tried to arrange a marriage for her, she married Inagi Tanaka, another A-bomb survivor, at the age of 26.
When she became pregnant with their first child, the couple worried about the baby’s health and were torn over whether to have it.
Fortunately, the girl was born without any concerns and they were also blessed with a son four years later.
Decades on, Tanaka still can’t help blaming herself for surviving that day while so many others died. She suffers from nightmares about the cremation of her cousin, at times murmuring “I’m sorry” in her dreams.
After her husband died in 1984, Tanaka devoted herself to composing tanka, a short form of Japanese poem that consists of 31 syllables.
Her companion was the Kojirin her father bought for her, published in 1941, the year the Pacific War broke out. As she perused it, she discovered new words and came to write down tanka in more than 100 notebooks. Her passion for composing the poems hasn’t diminished, even after the left side of her body became paralyzed by Parkinson’s disease.
When the government took a stand against the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adopted at the United Nations in July, Tanaka wrote the following poem to express her indignation:
Atomic bombing might not be a big deal
Since Japan isn’t opposed to producing nuclear arms
“I want to see the war and nuclear weapons eliminated from the planet. I’m still alive because it’s not achieved yet,” Tanaka said.
This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on Dec. 4.