He was born in 1884 and spent twenty years in Los Angeles (from 1902 to 1922) working as a farm manager. In 1912, he returned to Hiroshima to marry and then took his wife back to America. His four brothers and one sister remained in Hiroshima. He had seven children, but the three eldest died before our visit. In addition to the daughter caring for him, he had a son also living in Hiroshima and another in Nagoya, while his oldest son still lived in Los Angeles.
By 1945, then 62, he had retired and was back to Hiroshima, living close to his present house. (He pointed out to us the lot where a store now sold electric appliances.) The house he lived in now already belonged to his family during the war but was rented 270
out. One of his sons was in an internment camp in America and another was serving as an Allied soldier. During the war, he warned that Japan was wrong to fight against America, where, he knew from his years living there, “everything was bigger.” He always felt Japan would lose and told his family so. He never made any comment in public, though, fearing the power of the military police.
On August 6th, he was at the Hijiyama-mae trolley stop on the
“wrong” side of the Hil , about 1.5 kilometers from the hypocenter. He saw a blinding explosion and, after a few seconds, heard the thunderous don. His right ear went deaf. Everything was dark. He was feeling for his air raid hood as things began falling all around him. His left hand was cut, and three fingers became useless; his right elbow and wrist were injured. All his clothes were torn off except his trousers. Fragments of glass became embedded in his chest. He was severely burned, his face was swollen, and the skin had peeled off his arms and was hanging down in shreds. Many of those exposed at Hijiyama-mae died immediately, but those who were alive crossed together over to the sheltered side of the hil .
His daughter, Tomie Okuda, nineteen years old at the time, was home with her mother. Her body was lifted into the air by the shock wave and then thrown down. The earth moved as if in an earthquake. Though her eyes were open, she saw nothing but darkness. Her mother was standing in the corridor and hid from the blast. She was not hurt and did not get any of the symptoms about which they were later warned in booklets distributed after the bomb.
Okuda-san had lost a lot of blood, though, and needed bandages and disinfectant. They had no medicines, and all nearby hospitals had been destroyed.
Her youngest brother, seventeen years old, had been mobilized as a student worker tearing down buildings. (Many students in 271
the late stages of the war were made to work in demolition to create firebreaks to contain possible fire-bombings. Old men and women were also often ordered to help.) He came home with his face badly burned accompanied by a friend whose head had been torn open.
Okuda-san and her brother fled with their father to the rural town of Fuchu where their paternal grandparents lived. Their mother stayed at home. So many people were coming along the road, bare-foot and without clothes, injured and burned. All of them were begging for water, water. Her mother gave them shoes and water until it grew dark, and then she too fled to Fuchu. She later told Okuda-san that she regretted what she had done because she heard that those who drank water died.
For months after the bomb, the whole family felt weak, lost their hair, and suffered from diarrhea and loss of appetite, even his wife who had been uninjured. Nishikubo-san’s burns healed, but Okuda-san’s wounds remained raw and pus seeped out of them off and on for a year. While recuperating, the family stayed in the rural area, but the men came into town from time to time to repair the house. They final y returned to it after about three months. They drank an infusion of Chinese medicinal herbs instead of tea to combat germs and infection. They still drink it every day. They used grated cucumber on their skin injuries having no oil or ointment.
Nishikubo-san adopted his own regimens to which collectively he credits his amazingly long life. For example, he took no tobacco or sake, and only indulged in mikan oranges and plum wine. He ate lots of vegetables and miso with ginger and garlic. As a result of this diet, according to him, he was spared sickness, though he admitted he did have high blood pressure.
The family read articles saying that not even grass would grow in Hiroshima for seventy years, which caused them great fear. It was 272
thought that everyone would die. The rumors and uncertainty about the likely fate of those who lived in Hiroshima after the war and of their future children haunted all the hibakusha. Many people, Okuda-san reported, feared that not only hibakusha but their children and even grandchildren might yet suffer. The taint was thought to pass down in the blood. When Okuda-san’s daughter wanted to marry a man from another prefect, the man’s parents refused to attend the o-miae (a formal meeting between families to consider and sanction a relationship between two young people). She eventual y married a man from Hiroshima who was not put off by such prejudice.
Nishikubo-san announced that he never thought America was “bad,” but he did feel that the atom bomb was awful and powerful. He asked himself why it is that hibakusha can forgive when so many Americans are still bitter about Pearl Harbor. He believed that Japanese people forgive more easily because they do not keep hatred in their hearts.
He offered this plea for me to take to the wider world: Nuclear war would destroy the earth and eliminate
the human race. There must be no more nuclear
war, and we must never make such bombs to kill
people again. Hiroshima’s bomb was very smal , yet
so many died in an instant from its terrible power.
So please never let people forget Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. If people forget the fearfulness of the
deaths, the souls of hibakusha cannot reach heaven but will wander forever in hel . I will pray no other people will ever suffer nuclear war.
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