National / History | Regional Voices: Hiroshima

Hiroshima hibakusha, 86, kept horror of A-bombing to himself, until now

by Yumi Kanazaki

Chugoku Shimbun

For more than 70 years, Hiroshima resident Tokuo Shimizu kept the gruesome memories of the hellish scenes he saw at ground zero the day after the atomic bombing to himself.

But at the age of 86, Shimizu has decided to share his A-bomb memories with younger generations to pass on the message that human beings should never wage war again.

Shimizu was a second-year student at the Hiroshima Municipal Shipbuilding Engineering School (now Hiroshima Municipal Commercial High School) when the atomic bomb exploded over the city on Aug. 6, 1945.

On that day, he was at Mitsubishi Heavy Industry’s Hiroshima Shipyard, which had been mobilized to build naval weapons to be used for suicide attacks. Suddenly, a strong flash of light streamed into the workplace. At first, he thought it was a short circuit.

After taking refuge in a nearby air raid shelter, he saw a huge mushroom cloud rise above the central part of the city.

After spending the night at the shelter worrying about his family, Shimizu headed back to his home in the city in what is now known as Higashi Ward.

“I walked past people who were severely burned to the extent that they no longer looked human,” Shimizu recalled. “I tried to avoid stepping on the bodies.”

Under the eaves of a house, he saw several dead bodies with their heads stuck in a water tank. Shimizu was so thirsty that he pushed the bodies aside and drank from the tank.

“It was strange to see mosquito larvae floating in the water even under such circumstances,” he said.

Shimizu still can’t forget the grim sights he witnessed around the Aioi Bridge, which had been used by the Allies as an aiming point for the bomb. The river was filled with so many bodies he couldn’t see the surface of the water. On the bridge was an American prisoner. A man who looked like a military policeman was standing beside him, urging people to torture him with sticks and stones.

When he finally reached home, he found that the house was severely damaged but his mother was safe.

Shimizu’s 27-year-old sister, Yasuko, however, was injured. She became ill while searching for her daughter, Mieko, who was a first-grader in elementary school. While in bed, she said she wanted to eat zenzai (sweet red bean soup), so the family begged a farmer and managed to get the ingredients. But she died before the dish was ready. “I wanted her to eat it,” Shimizu recalled.

Yasuko’s husband was severely burned in the bombing and died before the war ended. Mieko was never found.

Shimizu later heard from the late Keiji Nakazawa, who penned the famous manga series “Hadashi no Gen” (“Barefoot Gen”) and went to the same elementary school, that his niece was with him near the school’s gate when the bomb hit, blowing them both off their feet.

Shimizu also lost close friends. All the first-year students who were mobilized to the area near where the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum now stands were killed. Among them was a former classmate who had waited a year to enter the shipbuilding engineering school because it was popular. His heart still aches when he thinks of these friends.

Shimizu himself began showing acute symptoms of radiation sickness, including hair loss and bleeding gums.

As he lost his father during the war, Shimizu went through difficult times making ends meet afterward. To survive, he ate weeds that grew near the railway tracks and earned meager wages from the black market.

But things got better with time.

In 1949, he moved to a liquor shop run by the family that another of his sisters had married into. There, he met his future but now deceased wife, Sachie, and ran the shop together for many years.

Shimizu devoted himself to promoting the economy, serving as the first chairman of the shopping district promotion association. Together with other residents, he also built a shrine on the roof of his shop.

Shimizu currently lives with a grandchild’s family and has been blessed with four great-grandchildren.

“Without everyone’s efforts after the war, Hiroshima wouldn’t have recovered and become the city it is now. We should never ever wage war again,” Shimizu 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 Jan. 15.