In a photograph taken in October 1945, Dr. Chuta Tamagawa conducts autopsies of A-bomb victims in a makeshift hut next to Hiroshima Teishin Hospital.

Yoshio Sugihara, a medical student at the time, witnessed the post-mortems carried out by Tamagawa, who was then a professor at Hiroshima Prefectural Medical School (now Hiroshima University School of Medicine). He described the situation in his memoir, “Wrath of a Pathologist.”

The hospital was packed with the wounded. On Sept. 20, the body of a baby born prematurely at eight months was carried into the hut from the hospital ward. The next morning, the body of the 39-year-old mother was brought in.

Sugihara caught sight of the father, whose eyes filled with tears as he told his son, who looked to be a third grader, “Now, say ‘goodbye’ to your mom.”

“I couldn’t hold back my hatred,” Sugihara wrote, describing his anger toward the United States in his memoir.

By the fall of 1945, a large volume of pathology specimens and other materials from the A-bomb victims had been collected by the U.S., which occupied Japan after World War II. The materials were not returned to Japan until 1973. Those from victims of the Hiroshima atomic bombing are now stored at Hiroshima University’s Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine (RIRBM).

In a report made by RIRBM after the materials were returned, names on a list match the ages, date and place of the autopsy of the mother and baby described in the memoir. After their deaths, specimens of their organs had been taken away to the very country that had dropped the atomic bombs.

About 11,000 items among the “materials returned from the U.S. military” are related to victims of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.

Among the glass slides of internal organ or bone marrow samples taken from 669 victims, about 4,000 slides with specimens from 105 people — including the aforementioned mother and child — are from those autopsied by the end of 1945.

The materials, obtained within just a few months of the atomic bombing, are considered extremely rare.

Sayaka Sugihara, 45, assistant professor at RIRBM’s Division of Radiation Information Registry, analyzed bone marrow specimens from 49 people and confirmed anew that the acute symptom of being unable to produce normal blood cells could be clearly identified in the victims, who had died within three or four weeks of exposure.

Researchers, however, are alarmed by the deterioration of the materials. Sayaka Sugihara said, “We must save the images while we can still see them. Otherwise, we will lose evidence supporting the diagnoses made immediately after the bombing.”

She presented a slide of bone-marrow preparation magnified under a microscope. Normally, megakaryocyte cells, the source of platelets, turn blue-violet clearly when a reagent is added. But the colors on the slide have become faint, making it difficult to distinguish the megakaryocytes from surrounding tissue.

RIRBM is aiming to save the specimens as digital images. A scanner made specifically for this purpose would cost a minimum of several million yen. In its budget request for fiscal 2017, RIRBM sought funds for the archiving of various A-bomb related materials housed at the organization through the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, but the request was rejected.

Satoshi Tashiro, 58, director of RIRBM, regrets the government’s decision.

“Under the present situation in Japan, it’s difficult to have a budget request approved unless research is expected to produce early results.”

The organization is now trying to raise funds on the internet through crowdfunding.

Each slide represents the life of a victim of the Hiroshima bombing, each with a name and a family.

To classify the materials, the U.S. military numbered the items related to the victims sequentially, beginning with the number “25.” When they were returned in 1973, the Hiroshima City government disclosed to the public the set of corresponding names, which had been recorded in Roman letters. One of them was “Yukimura Juro,” who had been assigned the serial number “259117.” A relative came forward to claim the material.

Following up on a clue in print media from that time, reporters tracked down a nephew of Yukimura. According to Hideo Mangoku, 85, Kyoto, 48-year-old Yukimura and his wife experienced the atomic bombing at their restaurant in Yagenbori (now part of Naka Ward), about one kilometer from the hypocenter.

Yukimura could not rescue his wife from under the collapsed building and ran, in tears, for safety. Mangoku said, “My uncle searched among the burned ruins day after day, but couldn’t find her remains.”

Purple spots soon appeared over Yukimura’s body, and his hair fell out. He died on Sept. 10, about one month after the bombing. There was no way at the time of treating the unfamiliar symptoms.

When a medical team from Kyoto University sought approval for a pathology autopsy of Yukimura, Mangoku’s father agreed. “If it helps the research,” he responded.

Among the materials returned from the U.S. were a medical record and 15 slides related to “259117.”

It should be the duty of the A-bombed cities and Japan to do everything possible to preserve the materials, and to pass on efforts to uncover the true consequences of the atomic bombing to future generations.

This feature was published by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on April 7.

About 11,000 items among the 'materials returned from the U.S. military' are related to victims of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. They are considered very rare. | KYODO
About 11,000 items among the ‘materials returned from the U.S. military’ are related to victims of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. They are considered very rare. | KYODO

Unspeakable horror: the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki


The nation this week marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 200,000 people and left many more deeply traumatized and even stigmatized.

Here are some facts about the devastating attacks:

The bombs

The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 by the U.S. bomber Enola Gay.

The bomb, weighing 4.4 tons, was nicknamed “Little Boy,” but its impact was anything but small.

It detonated about 600 meters from the ground, with a force equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT, and killed 140,000 people.

Tens of thousands died instantly, while others succumbed to injuries or illness in the weeks, months and years that followed.

Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second bomb, dubbed “Fat Man,” on the city of Nagasaki, killing another 74,000 people.

The attacks remain the only time atomic bombs have been used in wartime.

The attacks

When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the first thing people noticed was an “intense ball of fire,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Temperatures at the epicenter of the blast reached an estimated 7,000 degrees Celsius (12,600 Fahrenheit), which caused fatal burns within a radius of about three kilometers (five miles).

ICRC experts say there were cases of temporary or permanent blindness due to the intense flash of light, and subsequent related damage such as cataracts.

A whirlwind of heat generated by the explosion also ignited thousands of fires that burned several square kilometers (miles) of the largely wooden city. A firestorm that consumed all available oxygen caused more deaths by suffocation.

It has been estimated that burn- and fire-related casualties accounted for more than half of the immediate deaths in Hiroshima.

The explosion generated an enormous shock wave that in some cases literally carried people away. Others were crushed to death inside collapsed buildings or injured or killed by flying debris.

“I remember the charred bodies of little children lying around the hypocenter area like black rocks,” Koichi Wada, who was 18 at the time of the Nagasaki attack, has said of the bombing.

Radiation effects

The bomb attacks unleashed radiation that proved deadly both immediately and over the longer term.

Radiation sickness was reported in the attack’s aftermath by many who survived the initial blast and firestorm.

Acute radiation symptoms include vomiting, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, hemorrhaging and hair loss, with radiation sickness fatal for many within a few weeks or months.

Bomb survivors, known as hibakusha, also experienced longer-term effects including an elevated risk of thyroid cancer and leukemia, and both Hiroshima and Nagasaki have seen elevated cancer rates.

Of 50,000 radiation victims from both cities studied by the Japanese-U.S. Radiation Effects Research Foundation, about 100 died of leukemia and 850 suffered from radiation-induced cancers.

The foundation found no evidence however of a “significant increase” in serious birth defects among survivors’ children.


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