Survivors' Stories

Survivors’ Stories: Emiko Yamanaka, 84, Kure: Determined to continue sharing her A-bomb experience as long as she lives

When she held hand of man who helped her, his skin peeled off

by Sakiko Masuda, Staff Writer

Emiko Yamanaka, 84, lives in the city of Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture. She is determined to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons as long as she lives. Designated a Communicator for a World without Nuclear Weapons by the government of Japan, in 2011 she took part in a voyage organized by Peace Boat, a Tokyo-based NGO, and shared her experience of the atomic bombing in many parts of the world.

Ms. Yamanaka (née Takau) was a sixth grader at Eba National School (now Eba Elementary School) when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She had moved to Kurahashi Island (now part of Kure) because that was thought to be a safer location, but then returned to her home in the Eba area in central Hiroshima to receive treatment for her eyes. When she was on a bus, en route to the eye doctor on the morning of August 6, there was an air raid warning and she was told to get off the bus.

Ms. Yamanaka began walking, but the thong of her geta wooden clog broke. As she was trying to make a new thong with her handkerchief, a man working at a local factory offered her a hemp cord and said that she could come inside because outside it was so hot. Just when she started fixing the thong, there was a flash. The light was so intense that it seemed like the sun had fallen from the sky. That spot, near the Sumiyoshi Bridge in Kako-machi (now part of Naka Ward), was 1.4 kilometers from the hypocenter.

Ms. Yamanaka couldn’t breathe and she lost consciousness. When she came to, she cried out for help. A different man removed some debris and held out his hand. When she took it, the skin of his hand slipped right off. But they held on to one another, with bent fingers, and the man pulled her out from under the wreckage.

She tried to flee, but flames closed in from behind. She lost consciousness again near the Hiroshima Prison in the Yoshijima area. Then she heard a voice say, “Is there anyone going back to Eba?” It was someone she knew, and she was able to join other people in going back to Eba by boat.

Her family’s house was badly damaged, and no one was home. One of her neighbors took her to a branch of the Army Hospital in Eba. There, the fragments of broken glass that had pierced her skin were removed from her body. She was then able to reunite with her mother and four brothers at an air raid shelter near her house.

Her father later joined them and the family lived in Kurahashi, then returned to Hiroshima in October. After the atomic bombing, Ms. Yamanaka’s health was poor. She suffered hair loss, bleeding from her nose and gums, and diarrhea. After the war, she went to a dressmaking school in Kyoto and got a job at Fukuya department store in Hiroshima. Her boyfriend proposed to her, but his parents were against their marriage because she was an atomic bomb survivor.

She married another man when she was 22 and had children. But she has been afflicted with a number of different diseases, including thyroid cancer. Her father, also an A-bomb survivor, suffered from cancer and died at the age of 53. Out of her belief that no one else should have to face the same suffering, 30 years ago she began to speak to children about her experience of the atomic bombing.

In December 2017, Ms. Yamanaka took part in a tour organized by Peace Boat and visited Oslo, Norway, where the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony was held for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). She joined a parade held in the city to celebrate ICAN winning the prize. Recalling this experience, she said, “I felt people’s desire and enthusiasm for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The Nobel Peace Prize was just the beginning of the path to world peace.”

However, the nuclear weapon states and Japan, the country that directly experienced nuclear attack, have rebuffed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. And U.S. President Donald Trump has announced this his nation will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The world is again moving away from nuclear disarmament.

Ms. Yamanaka said, “I’m absolutely against nuclear weapons, which are capable of wiping out mankind. I’ll continue to share my experience so that we can leave this blue planet and lush land to future generations.”

Teenagers’ impressions

All nations must abandon nuclear weapons
Ms. Yamanaka traveled around the world by ship and shared her A-bomb experience. Her words made a lasting impression on my heart when she said, “There are no borders on the oceans or in the sky. Nuclear weapons must be eliminated from the whole world.” I felt her firm determination to help prevent a terrible disaster caused by nuclear weapons from ever happening again. Some countries still possess nuclear arms. I now strongly believe that all nations should abandon nuclear weapons. (Yuna Okajima, 14)

Positive thinking made a strong impression
I was impressed that Ms. Yamanaka, who has suffered from many diseases, emphasized that it was important to think positively. If I were her, I might not have had a positive outlook for the future and might have been pessimistic. Ms. Yamanaka has overcome many hardships under severe conditions while still believing that everything would be all right. I learned this important life lesson when she told us about her A-bomb experience. (Miyuu Okada, 17)

(Originally published on December 3, 2018)