Yachiyo Kato, 91, believes she was able to survive the atomic bombing of Hiroshima thanks to her teacher’s decision.
With the thought that she was allowed to survive the A-bombing to convey her experience to young people, she has devoted half of her life to passing on the accounts of students from Hiroshima First Municipal Girls’ School (now Funairi High School).
Kato (nee Tominaga) entered the school in April 1941 and went on to its advanced course, which was established during the war in the spring of 1945. She was making machine-gun bullets as a mobilized student every day at the factory of Japan Steel Works located in Nishikaniya-cho (now part of Minami Ward). Aug. 6, the day of the bombing, fell on the one day each month when the factory was closed because of a shortage of electric power.
Kato had plans to go to the island of Miyajima with friends. She left her home, located in Mukainada-nakamachi (now part of Minami Ward), early in the morning, and while she was waiting for her friends in front of Koi Station (now Hiroden-Nishihiroshima Station) a little past 8 a.m., she was suddenly blown about 10 meters by the A-bomb blast and lost consciousness.
Although Kato was about 2½ kilometers from the hypocenter, she does not remember the bomb’s flash of light or its roar. When she came to, she found lunch boxes and wooden clogs scattered about, and students in a lower grade who were with her had been injured by glass fragments piercing their cheeks and shoulders. She received first aid at Kusatsu National School (now Kusatsu Elementary School), which functioned as a temporary relief station, and headed to her home, avoiding fires on the route.
On her way home, she was exposed to the thick “black rain” that followed the blast, and saw people whose skin hung down in strips, students nearly naked and women with hair standing upright wherever she went. When she arrived home, it was past 8 p.m.
Two days later, a woman involved with a women’s group who took part in the rescue efforts at Aosaki National School (now Aosaki Elementary School) in the neighborhood, came to inform Kato that her classmate, Tsuneko Yoshimoto, was staying there. Yoshimoto was one of Kato’s friends with whom she had planned to go to Miyajima. Yoshimoto had been exposed to the blast on a streetcar when it was passing near the Dobashi stop, and then was carried to the school.
Kato decided to bring Yoshimoto to her own home to take care of her until Yoshimoto’s mother came to get her. She laid her on the futon and tried to give her grated cucumber and crushed tomato, but she immediately threw it up. The inside of her mouth was bright yellow, which in retrospect was perhaps because of the effects of her radiation exposure. Several days later, Yoshimoto was taken to her own home in Midori-machi (now part of Minami Ward) on a two-wheel cart and died around Aug. 24.
Hiroshima First Municipal Girls’ School lost 676 people, including 10 teachers, in the A-bomb attack. A total of 541 first- and second-year students, who were mobilized to demolish homes to create fire lanes south of what is now Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in the city’s Naka Ward, were exposed to the A-bomb’s heat and blast around 500 meters from the hypocenter. All of them died.
“Most students’ eyeballs had popped from their sockets and their faces had been burned and swollen. Perhaps only about 10 people could be identified.” These are the words Ms. Kato heard from the late Fumiko Sakamoto and other people — bereaved families who had searched for their daughters.
“As a matter of fact, there was a suggestion, at first, that the third- and fourth-year students, as well as those in the advanced course should be mobilized to demolish homes to create fire lanes on Aug. 6,” Kato said. “But the late Yoshiyuki Kutsuki, a teacher who was in charge of older students, had prevented it, saying that the students were tired and needed to rest. If I had taken part in the demolition of homes, I would have died, too.”
The advanced course was abolished at the end of the war, and Kato married when she was 20. While busy raising her four children, she helped with a memorial service for A-bomb victims held every year on Aug. 6. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing, she closely examined the school register with Sakamoto and others, and the alumni union produced a memorial bearing the names of the victims and erected it near the A-bomb monument to her school.
Kato began sharing her A-bomb account in peace education classes at Funairi High School last year, when she turned 90.
“Everybody served our country frantically and died,” she said. “Once a war begins, our human rights are deprived and everything is destroyed.”
She is planning to share her account with her “juniors” at Funairi High School, who are of her great-grandchildren’s generation, this summer, too.
Teenagers who have heard Kato’s testimony have also spoken out about what they have learned through hearing a first-hand account of the bombing.
“Ms. Kato, who experienced the atomic bombing when she was 16 years old, was around the same age as me. She was brought up as one of ‘the children of the Empire’ and she thought that it was an honor to sacrifice her life for the good of the nation,” said Yukiho Saito, 18. “She talked about the importance of education. I learned from her that nothing can take the place of my school life.
“I have a dream to work in the environment for education in the future. I want to respect the autonomy of the child who will lead the future and to hand down a peaceful community.”
Chihiro Yamase, 13, said: “Ms. Kato said, ‘I thought it was the end of the world when I saw Ninoshima Island from Hiroshima Station.’ When I looked up the island on a map, I was surprised to find it was really far from the station.
“Ms. Kato looked sad when she talked about friends who had died, and I thought war is unforgivable as it robs us of precious people,” Yamase said. “I want to listen to as many people as possible and to honestly write what I felt in order to end war.”
“When Ms. Kato was asked to talk about her experience, she thought that she had to talk because she had survived the atomic bombing. I strongly felt her passion for conveying what happened on that day to us,” said Shino Taguchi, 14. “I want to talk about A-bomb survivors’ accounts to my family members and friends to hand down Ms. Kato’s desire, now that I know, to the next generation and to continue making small efforts to think about war and peace.”
This feature was published by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on June 22.