Survivors' Stories

Masako Nakamoto, 89, Nishi Ward, Hiroshima

Regret felt over lost lives

Carrying bodies led to medical career

On August 6, 1945, Masako Nakamoto (nee, Nishimoto) was working at the Army Clothing Depot in the Deshio district (part of present-day Minami Ward). In the wake of the atomic bombing, the building was transformed into a temporary relief station for the wounded. A wave of survivors appeared, but there was little medicine and few medical supplies, and Ms. Nakamoto could do nothing to help them as they died one after another. The regret she felt from this time stirred in her a strong desire to do work that could help others in their need, and so she set her sights on becoming a doctor.

Ms. Nakamoto was 22 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. That morning she was doing office work on the second floor of the northernmost red-brick building on the grounds of the Army Clothing Depot. That building, located 2.7 kilometers southeast of the hypocenter, still stands today. Suddenly a flash lit up the room, and at the instant she took cover under a desk, she heard a great boom.

She initially thought that a bomb had hit a gas tank located about 600 meters away. Because she had to help with the clerical work for relief efforts, in case of attack, she ran to a medical room alongside the courtyard. However, the room was located in a wooden building, which had been blown down, and medical supplies were scattered about.

The wounded poured in, one after the other. An army doctor and six nurses provided treatment, with Ms. Nakamoto assisting. But there was only disinfectant and ointment available, and these supplies soon ran out as well.

Still, doing their best to aid the victims, Ms. Nakamoto and others spread out military blankets on the concrete floor of the second story, laying three people on each blanket. The women attending the injured, including Ms. Nakamoto, then formed pairs to watch over them amid cries of “Help me!” and “Mother!” By the time they had made one round, two of every three victims had died.

They carried out the bodies on improvised stretchers to some lotus fields located to the south of the Army Clothing Depot. When they arrived back at the building, they found more people were dead.

Recalling the time, Ms. Nakamoto said, “I made more than ten round-trips to the lotus fields. A total of several hundred people died, I think. But on orders from the military, we were told not to remember or talk about it.” Ms. Nakamoto herself developed a sore throat three days after the bombing, and her gums began to bleed. These symptoms continued for some time.

As a result of her experience at the Army Clothing Depot, Ms. Nakamoto decided to become a surgeon in order to help people suffering from similar badly-bleeding wounds. Her first step involved studying math for three years at Fukuoka Prefectural College for Women (now Fukuoka Women’s University), then she enrolled at Hiroshima University. In March 1956, at the age of 33, she graduated from the Faculty of Medicine. Back then, men dominated the surgical field so she chose to work in obstetrics and gynecology.

In 1962, she established the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Fukushima Hospital (today’s Fukushima Seikyo Hospital in Nishi Ward). Through her career, she helped deliver about 2,000 babies.

Ms. Nakamoto hopes that young people today, particularly women, will be “thinkers.” “If people don’t think things through, the generation that follows won’t be happy,” she said. “I want people to think carefully about what kind of place Japan should be.” (Rie Nii, Staff Writer)

Hiroshima Insight

Former Army Clothing Depot: Strong buildings served as relief station

The former Army Clothing Depot consists of a complex of red-brick buildings, each 500 meters long. The four L-shaped buildings, dubbed “Japan’s longest row of red-brick buildings,” sit on the western and southern sides of Hiroshima Prefectural Hiroshima Technical High School, and are located in the Deshio district in Minami Ward.

Built in August 1913, the former Army Clothing Depot was completed a year earlier than Tokyo Station, another well-known building made of red brick. The four buildings that make up the former military site were strengthened with reinforced-concrete on the inside, and brick on the outside. They were used to store clothing, footwear, caps, and other gear for Japanese soldiers. A factory that produced the clothing and footwear stood to the northeast of the buildings.

The former Army Clothing Depot was situated about 2.7 kilometers from the hypocenter. Because of this distance, the buildings withstood the blast and avoided the fires. As a result, the location became a temporary relief station in the aftermath of the bombing.

After the war, from 1946, the depot was used as a school building for the Hiroshima Higher Normal School (today’s Faculty of Education at Hiroshima University) for about seven years. It was later used as a student dormitory and a warehouse for a shipping company. Currently, the complex is under the authority of the Hiroshima Prefectural Office, but it has stood empty since 1997, awaiting work to make the buildings earthquake-resistant. How the buildings will be used in the future remains unresolved.

Teenagers’ Impressions

We have to tell the world
Ms. Nakamoto told us, “I hope young people will learn more about radiation and think about what kind of country they want to live in.” It was a sincere message, I think, from someone who was involved in the clerical work for relief efforts and saw the cruel conditions of the A-bomb victims firsthand.

Hearing her thoughts made me feel that I have a duty to convey the horror of the atomic bombing and the danger of nuclear weapons to the people of the world. (Yuri Ryokai, 15)

Think more about the world
I felt ashamed when Ms. Nakamoto told us that she wants us to be “thinkers.” Up to that point, I hadn’t really thought very deeply about our society today and our future. She said that because she didn’t think carefully about the war when she was young, she didn’t have doubts about it. From now on, I’ll try to show more interest in the news and talk about it with my friends. (Mei Yoshimoto, 16)

Staff Writer’s Notebook

Masako Nakamoto made the decision to become a doctor when she was 22, and it took more than ten years for this dream to come true. After reaching this goal, she gave her utmost, along with her husband, to the medical care of her community. Fukushima Seikyo Hospital, where she worked, grew to be a general hospital in the area. Today, Ms. Nakamoto remains active, taking piano lessons and sending text messages with her cell phone. When she has time, she enjoys drinking coffee at a local doughnut shop. At times, she sprinkles her conversation with English words, such as saying that conveying the atomic bombing widely is her “duty.”

These days, she is concerned about the impact of radiation as a result of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant. She stressed that “People who experienced the atomic bombing have a higher incidence of developing cancer. I hope people are aware of that and are thinking very, very carefully about the damage caused by the nuclear accident.” (Rie Nii)

(Originally published on October 8, 2012)