National | Regional Voices: Hiroshima

Glass fragments embedded in Hiroshima hibakusha are grim reminders of the day the atom bomb dropped

by Miho Kuwajima

Chugoku Shimbun

Fragments of glass that pierced her skin as a result of the U.S.’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 are still lodged in the right arm of Mineko Yonezawa, now age 86. She said the glass penetrated deep into her arm and muscles developed around them.

“These pieces of glass are reminders of my experience of the atomic bombing. I will take them with me to the after life,” Yonezawa said.

Yonezawa was 13 when the city was hit by the atomic bomb. Back then she was a second year student at Yasuda Girls’ High School. Along with her fellow second year students, Yonezawa was mobilized to work at the Homare aircraft factory in the town of Kusunoki in Nishi Ward, where they were assigned to sharpen aluminum bars.

On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Yonezawa went to the factory as usual, donning a white headband. After a morning assembly at 8 a.m., she went to her lathe station to start working. But the moment she sat down, the brick wall behind her collapsed, and fragments of shattered glasses pierced the right side of her body.

She was covered with rubble, but Yonezawa crawled frantically from the debris, moving toward the direction where she saw light. The factory was located about 1.8 kilometers from the hypocenter.

Once she got out of the rubble, Yonezawa saw people walking with their skin hanging from their arms and soldiers whose hair had disappeared except for the part that had been covered with their caps.

Without knowing what was going on, Yonezawa headed north along the Otagawa River to Oshiba Park, where she saw a woman covered in blood running and screaming, before collapsing in front of her. A little boy came running and clung onto the woman, crying. But the woman shook the boy off and started running again.

“I believe she was the boy’s mother. It was hell on Earth,” Yonezawa said.

After spending the night at a school in Furuichi (now part of Asaminami Ward), Yonezawa was finally able to return home to the town of Uchikoshi (now part of Nishi Ward).

Until the moment they finally reunited, Yonezawa’s parents thought their daughter might be dead. In notes written by her father, who died in 1993, he said he searched for his daughter with a heko-obi (a soft thin cloth like a waistband) so he could carry her body on his back.

Yasuda Girls’ High School lost 315 students and 13 teachers in the A-bombing.

The surviving students went through hardships after the war. The school building, which was in the town of Nishihakushima (now part of Naka Ward), located 1.4 km from the hypocenter, was demolished. When the decision was made to relocate the school to the nearby former military barracks for the army corps of engineers, the students were mobilized to help clean up the rubble.

“All of us were terrified when the skeleton of a soldier was found beneath a collapsed wall,” Yonezawa recalled.

After the war, Yonezawa’s parents renovated their tilting home and opened an inn called Marunaka Ryokan that accepted demobilized soldiers.

In 1952, film director Kaneto Shindo and his crew stayed at her parents’ inn while they shot “Children of the Atomic Bomb,” a masterpiece about the tragedy of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

In the film there is a scene where its protagonist, who is an atomic bomb survivor, touches her right arm and says she would like to keep the pieces of glass embedded in her body in order to “remember August 6.” The line was based on a conversation the film director had with Yonezawa.

Yonezawa and her husband, Minoru, 91, who is also a hibakusha, took over her parents’ business, but they closed down the inn in 1994. Their eldest daughter and her Guatemalan husband now run a restaurant at their home, serving okonomiyaki (Japanese-style savory pancakes). As people from various countries come to the restaurant, Yonezawa hears different languages every day.

“I hope people from different countries can speak freely, like they do at the okonomiyaki shop, and to help one another instead of having animosity,” Yonezawa 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 Nov. 6.