Survivors' Stories

Survivors’ Stories: Mihoko Ota, 84, Nishi Ward

by Yuji Yamamoto, Staff Writer

Mihoko Ota (née Inaba), 84, never talked about her A-bomb experience before, not even to her family, because the memories were so awful. After so many of her schoolmates perished, and she came across countless charred bodies in the devastated city, Ms. Ota, who was then 12 years old, could not bring herself to recount that time. However, with the number of A-bomb survivors now dwindling, she made up her mind to speak out and she shared her A-bomb experience for the first time with reporters and junior writers of the Chugoku Shimbun.

Back then, Ms. Ota was in her first year at Hiroshima Jogakuin Junior and Senior High School and the students from her school were mobilized to help tear down homes to create a fire lane in the Zakoba-cho district (now part of Naka Ward). On August 6, 1945, her class took a day off from work so Ms. Ota stayed home in Funairi Kawaguchi-cho (now part of Naka Ward), which was about two kilometers from the hypocenter.

After the air-raid warning was lifted that morning, Ms. Ota left the air-raid shelter, located near the front door of her house. When she looked up at the sky, she saw an airplane in the east and was surprised that no air-raid alarm had sounded. She quickly put on her air-raid hood and went into the house. At that moment, there was a blinding flash of light.

Her legs were pierced with fragments of glass from the front door, which had shattered in the bomb blast, and the walls of the house collapsed. Her grandmother and a sister, who was three years older than Ms. Ota, appeared through the wreckage of pillars. Her sister’s clothes were scorched and the skin from her right arm was peeling off and dangling down. A woman who lived in the house in front of them was covered in blistering burns, pleading for help. And there were others, all around, who she couldn’t even identify because of their terrible burns and other injuries. There was nothing she could do.

About 30 minutes later, Ms. Ota’s mother came home from her work for the war effort. Ms. Ota was so happy to see her mother, uninjured, that she clung to her. The four family members fled south, away from the approaching fire, until they finally reached a field near Eba Sarayama, where they took refuge. Along the way, she saw people whose eyeballs had popped from their sockets and others whose hands were cradling the internal organs that had spilled from their wounded bellies. Eventually, these wounded people would collapse to the ground.

Starting the next day, Ms. Ota walked around the city with her mother in search of friends and witnessed the horrific sights of the decimated city. The grounds of Yuishinji Temple, near Eba, become a crematory and though many parents rushed there to look for their children, the burning of the bodies went on. “War is so cruel,” she thought in tearless grief.

At her school in Kaminagarekawa-cho (now in Naka Ward), only the gateposts remained. Ms. Ota worried about her schoolmates and teachers, and later it turned out that they had all been killed while engaged in their demolition work.

Around August 11, the family moved to her father’s parents’ house in Yasu Village (now part of Asaminami Ward). Ms. Ota’s father was serving in the Imperial Japanese Army then. It was there that she greeted the end of the war on August 15. The following winter, a temporary school building was raised on Ushitayama Hill. The number of classrooms for the first-year students, which had been five, was now reduced to just one. In all, Hiroshima Jogakuin (including a special wing which has become a university), lost more than 350 students and teachers in the atomic bombing. Ms. Ota felt a twist of fate over the fact that she had survived the catastrophic attack.

When Ms. Ota was 19, she married Yoshiaki Ota, who ran a foundry, and they had three children together. Yoshiaki died in 1995 at the age of 63. After her children grew up, she served as a volunteer probation officer for 34 years. She worked hard to be of use to society, inviting those on a path toward rehabilitation to her home and serving them meals. She believed that their hearts would soften if they were treated kindly. She now has succeeded her husband as the chairperson of his company.

Still, Ms. Ota’s heart sinks each year when August 6 approaches. She attends the memorial service held at her old school, but is sad that the attendees who experienced the atomic bombing are now declining in number, year by year. When she heard how North Korea was continuing to pursue its nuclear weapons tests, she felt a deep sense of concern. She worries that North Korea may not know how destructive nuclear weapons really are and that these weapons might be used again if she doesn’t speak up about what happened when Hiroshima was attacked with the atomic bomb.

It was her eldest son, Yoshio, 65, who encouraged Ms. Ota to share her A-bomb experience when she felt conflicted over speaking out. For the first time in 72 years, she visited the place where her house had once stood. She wondered, “What do people who would consider using nuclear weapons think of the catastrophic consequences we experienced?” Speaking through tears, she said she will continue telling her story.

Teenagers’ Impressions

It was heartbreaking to imagine her pain
Ms. Ota told us that she felt strange for having survived when most of her schoolmates were killed in the atomic bombing. It was heartbreaking for me to imagine her fear, despair, and regret over being unable to help save them. This was my first interview with an A-bomb survivor and the horror of nuclear weapons wasn’t really real to me until I heard Ms. Ota’s story. Now I feel strongly that nuclear weapons must be eliminated right away. (Aya Tadokoro, 13)

I want to follow in her footsteps
Ms. Ota served as a volunteer probation officer for 34 years and said, “It’s my role as an A-bomb survivor to contribute to society.” She said she’s very happy to hear that the people she helped rehabilitate have gotten married or are working hard. I think that I, born in a peaceful world, can follow in Ms. Ota’s footsteps. I want to be like her in this way, treating everyone kindly and softening other people’s hearts. (Shunichi Kamichoja, 17)

(Originally published on October 16, 2017)