Recently I recalled moments of my time in Japan as a student and looked everywhere for pieces of my journal I couldn't find. But I found them at last, so I'm able to share a part of my experience with you.
However, today's content is quite potent, so tread carefully.
When I studied abroad in Japan in 2009, our first field trip stop was Hiroshima. We’d had readings and discussions on the atomic bombs themselves and whether dropping them ended the war, but I hadn’t given much thought as to what the city would look like, so I was pretty surprised to find it so beautiful and peaceful.
Besides the obligatory visit to the Peace Memorial Museum – which if you ever get a chance to, I highly encourage you to go, but brace yourself – we had the wonderful opportunity to hear two accounts from survivors themselves, via an interpreter.
Part 1 is the account of Hiroto Kuboura, at the time a 74 year-old man.
Sitting in the conference room is a nearly bald old man wearing glasses and a white patch over his left eye. On his right sits his interpreter; on his left, a map. He proceeds to tell us, group of about 35 foreign and Japanese students, where he was when the bomb hit.
Hiroto was an electrical engineer and was working at the train station 2.1 km away (that’s about 1.3 miles) from the epicenter. It doesn’t sound close, but on the map with the blast radius, he was definitely in the red zone.
He was sitting on the second floor of a building when the explosion occurred. He was blasted out of the room and under a desk, with tons of debris falling on him. He had 30 to 38 injured spots on his left side, and lost his eye – although he didn’t notice until his friend and colleague told him later while helping him. He managed to make it down the stairs, but as he saw the flames getting closer, he thought he was going to die. He fainted there, at the bottom of the stairs, but his colleague helped him and they both made it out of the building, bloody.
People were trapped inside under the debris and were crying for help. Hiroto and his colleague couldn’t help them, they had no strength left and could do nothing but sit there. Thankfully, the flames didn’t burn the building, and the people were saved later.
They slowly made their way to a hospital by the nearest train station, north-west of their position. They didn’t know it was an atomic bomb and that nothing was left of the city. They argued with some people who told them nothing was there. They headed north-east instead, but the fire had spread through that area and by the time they reached the hospital, no one was there.
They kept heading north, over the mountains, until they found a clinic of some kind and Hiroto was put on a stretcher. The doctor said he couldn’t do anything about his numerous wounds because if he took the clothes off he would bleed again, so they did nothing. Unfortunately the train couldn’t move until 12:30a.m. because the locomotive was going the wrong way. He was eventually evacuated north and sent to a very good, famous eye doctor who told him he had to do something about his eye if he wanted to keep his right one.
Hiroto underwent surgery 13 times, and was better around four years later. He was 19 when this happened. That was about my age when I heard him speak, and still to this day I cannot fathom what he went through or with what strength he carried on.
He is one of the leading speakers of the hibakusha (被爆者), surviving victims of the atomic bombs. He strongly advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons so that this tragedy and thousands of deaths may not be repeated. He saw many horrible things; things I don’t even want to describe because just thinking about them makes me want to cry. Throughout his speech, I was on the verge of tears.
Someone asked him what he thought our job was, as the next generation to his story to the generations to come. He said he wanted us to think about peace. “How do you create peace?” Is it with power? Or is it by talking heart to heart to each other?
Hiroto went to see a Buddhist priest because he was suffering and thought about taking his own life. He saw no point in living; he couldn’t get a promotion at his job since he was no longer qualified to work his dream job. The priest told him that his suffering was his own, and that suffering makes us better people. Everyone has experienced suffering, and it changes people, but it’s your job to change yourself for the better and grow from that suffering.
He mentioned he started talking about his experience in 1982 because if no one talked, no one would know the facts. He thought it was his responsibility to let other people know of the atrocities of nuclear weapons so that they can never be used again.