Survivors' Stories

Akemi Masuda, 74, Nishi Ward, HiroshIma

Shocked by sight of victims trudging down the road

Desire for younger generation to bring about a world with no atomic bombs

by Mayu Nagasato, Staff Writer

For Akemi Masuda (nee Heya), 74, the atomic bombing was a thing of the past. She had never told her family details of her A-bombing experience. But three years ago she was forced to recall the events of that day when she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. “Why now?” she thought. She could not conceal her shock. It was as if she’d been slapped across the face, she said.

At the time of the A-bombing Ms. Masuda, then 5 years old, was playing with her cousin in the courtyard of the family home in Misasa Honmachi (now part of Nishi Ward), about 2.3 km from the hypocenter. Her 1-year-old sister Michiko had begun to cry, so she went to the kitchen, cut a tomato in half and was about to give one piece to her sister. Her memories after that are fragmented.

Ms. Masuda has no recollection of the moment of the atomic bombing. Her mother, Sakae, told Ms. Masuda that she was found uninjured, standing between the beams of the collapsed house and the china cupboard. Upon going from the back of the house around to the front, they found that all the houses in the vicinity had collapsed and they could see far off into the distance.

Carrying her sister on her back, Ms. Masuda, her grandmother and others walked to the air raid shelter at the nearby Shinjonomiya Shrine. Her mother met up with them later, and that evening they set off for the national school in Asa-gun, Furuichi-cho (now part of Asa Minami Ward).

Along the way there they saw survivors of the A-bombing trudging along. When she looked up, Ms. Masuda saw people whose skin was hanging from their arms. “I didn’t know what had happened, but it was a terrible sight,” she said.

When they arrived at the school, they were given some hardtack. To Ms. Masuda, who had had nothing to eat or drink all day, it was a wonderful meal. “I can say it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten in my life,” she said with a smile.

After the A-bombing Ms. Masuda suffered from nosebleeds and diarrhea. And in December 1946, more than a year afterwards, she was laid up with a high fever of unknown cause. She vomited enough blood to fill a wash basin, and the doctor expected her to die. But by March of the following year, her symptoms had eased, and she went back to school in April.

But until the third grade nearly every night she had nightmares in which she saw A-bomb victims walking. She was afraid to go to sleep. Then one day she and her grandmother visited a temple where she saw a picture-card show that depicted heaven and hell. “That picture-card show is nonsense,” she thought. “The real hell was the day of the A-bombing.” Believing that, she was freed from the nightmares.

After that she put the atomic bombing behind her. She married at 38 and gave birth to a daughter the following year. She felt her A-bombing experience was not something to be talked about and said little about it to her daughter.

But there was one thing that continued to nag at her for more than 50 years: the tomato. She had cut it in half just before the atomic bombing, intending to give half to her little sister. But she had cut the tomato so that her own half was slightly bigger. “I was punished because I was going to eat more than my sister,” she thought. Whenever she saw a tomato she recalled the A-bombing, and until she was about 60 years old, she couldn’t eat tomatoes.

She agreed to talk about her experiences this time because she wanted to pass them on to the younger generation. “I’d like them to study foreign languages, broaden their perspective and tell foreigners to bring about a world without atom bombs,” Ms. Masuda said.

Teenagers’ Impressions

Desire to share awareness of the terror of war

Ms. Masuda said that until she was in the third grade she was plagued by nightmares in which she was reminded of the hellish scenes she witnessed as she fled to the suburbs. I realized once again that her situation was so miserable that even sleeping made her depressed. I hope that one day people around the world will share an awareness of the preciousness of peace and the horrors of war. (Nozomi Mizoue, third-year junior high school student)

Wouldn’t be able to stand it

When I was 5 years old, the age Ms. Masuda was at the time of the atomic bombing, I was playing with friends in kindergarten. But when I heard her story of throwing up blood and being so sick she couldn’t go to school, I thought to myself that if that happened to me I’d be so scared I wouldn’t be able to endure it. Many children suffered as Ms. Masuda did. We must eliminate all atomic bombs. (Harumi Okada, first-year high school student)

Suffering from the A-bombing goes on

After the atomic bombing, Ms. Masuda suffered from a lot of symptoms, but in spite of that she has tried not to think about her illness. When I saw her talking about that, I felt she was a strong person. I can’t imagine how terrible her illness was. Many people are still suffering on account of the atomic bombing. I felt once again that advances in treatment must be made. (Haruka Shinmoto, first-year high school student)

(Originally published on August 25, 2014)