First-person account: I survived Hiroshima
In 1945, Hiromu Morishita was a 14-year-old student at Hiroshima First High School. With so many young Japanese men fighting for their country, Morishita and his classmates were mobilized as a work force for an aircraft parts factory. When materials ran out, they were assigned to tear down buildings to create a fire-control zone if Hiroshima were hit by U.S. bombers.
Tokyo already had been fire-bombed, along with dozens of other cities. Air raid alerts were part of Hiroshima’s emergency preparations, which also included building bamboo rafts in case a reservoir were attacked.
But Hiroshima hadn’t been hit, even though it was a military city. It made Morishita and his classmates curious – and scared. They didn’t know that Hiroshima was left intact so the U.S. could assess the impact of the atomic bomb.
On Aug. 6, Morishita was among 70-80 students lined up near the Tsurumi Bridge in Hiroshima’s Hijiyama district, waiting for their instructions for the day.
The 84-year-old retired calligraphy professor recalls vividly what followed:
Suddenly, a bright light flashed. Instantly, I squatted down and covered my face with my hands. We had been instructed to do so to protect ourselves when we were bombed. Otherwise, we were told that our eardrums would burst and eyeballs would pop out.
A tremendous heat engulfed us. It was as if we were thrown into a gigantic smelting furnace. Then I was blown down by a blast and beaten into the ground.
I jumped into the water because my body was burning hot. Soon, people started coming into the water one after another. I looked up the sky. It was pitch black and the dust filled the air. The sun was glittering, but it was cold and dark as if it were a winter day.
There was an eerie silence. After a while, I crawled out of the water. Low and weak groans were echoing all over.
I had no idea where my classmates were. Then, I saw one of them coming to me. He asked me how he looked. I told him; ‘Your cap and clothes are burnt and the skin on your face is hanging like rags.’ He told me that I looked exactly the same.
Near the bridge rail, a badly burned horse was struggling to stand up.
I followed the crowd and walked toward an empty lot. There was a sea of flames all over. I walked up a path to the hilltop of Hijiyama, from which I could see the city. Flames were seen here and there as if heaps of sawdust were burning. Fire sirens were blaring.
I did not feel anything because I could not figure out what was actually going on.
After a while, I walked down the hill and saw a group of soldiers in uniform walking toward me. The skin on their faces and hands was coming off and dangling. They were walking with their hands hanging out in front of them, like ghosts do.
I began to realize that something extraordinary had happened. Something out-of-this-world had happened. The elderly were chanting ‘nam-mai-da’ (a Buddhist invocation) in low moaning voices.
I started to walk toward the north, in the direction of Hakushima, where our home was. It was only then I started feeling pains. The burning pains were unbearable, so I dipped a towel into a fire cistern on the roadside and cooled the wounds. Walking was not easy with the ground covered with rubble.
When I reached Tokiwa Bridge near our home, I found my neighborhood was engulfed in flames. I could not go further because the force of the fire was too fierce.
Not knowing what to do, I turned around and walked to the Hiroshima station. The sights at the riverside near the station were scenes from hell.
Lying there were bodies; some were reduced to bones, while others were charcoaled or swollen with blisters. Many bodies were floating in the river.
Suddenly, I heard a military officer giving a command while brandishing a sword. He was out of his mind.
Across the street, a woman came out of a destroyed house, carrying her husband on her back. Soon, she fell down and cried by her dead husband.
In the station, employees were hurriedly carrying a stretcher with a woman bleeding from the head.
A train was lying on its side, and black smoke filled the station. I was stunned, kept watching those sights as if I were watching movie scenes.
Then I heard a voice from somewhere telling us to find shelter because there might be another bombing. So I walked to a pagoda near the station. I stayed in the pagoda until the fire died down. In the evening, I started to walk toward our home again.
I came home only to find that my mother was crushed to death under the house. My father later told me that it was likely that she died instantly because the house was so completely flattened and it was at least good that she did not suffer.
My father, who was a school teacher, was spared from the blast because he was in Kusatsu with his students on the day. My two sisters were also spared. The older one was in a shoe factory in Misasa and the younger one had already evacuated to the countryside for safety with her classmates.
It was already in the evening. What should I do? I thought for a while and decided to visit a friend of my father’s in Kawauchi. We had sent some of our valuables, including our family photo albums, to his place to protect them from air raids.
I walked a long distance. When I neared his house, my strength ran out. I fell down in a vegetable patch and lost consciousness. Neighbors found me and carried me into his house.
I was told later that for the next three days, I remained unconscious and was delirious from fever. When I regained consciousness, my father was by my side. Because discharge of pus was profuse, a mosquito net was used to protect me from flies and bugs. Changing the bandages that were soaked with discharge and blood was unbearably painful.
My aunt, a younger sister of my mother, visited me while I was at my father’s friend’s house. She did not get burned. But shortly after visiting me, she spewed out black foam from her mouth and died. We learned much later that she died from radiation poisoning, and that the bomb was a nuclear bomb.
On the other hand, a newspaper issued a few days later reported about the bombing. It said the damage was minor and under investigation.
While we did not know about radiation then, rumors were circulating that people were dying one after another, even those who had no external injuries. The riverside nearby became an impromptu crematory. It was fearful to lie in bed thinking that I might be one of those people.
After staying there for one month, I moved to my grandmother’s uncle’s place in Chiyoda-cho, where I stayed for six months.
I suffered from flashbacks for a long time. The atrocious scenes, the flash and blaring sirens repeatedly came back. Even a reflection in a glass would trigger the memory.
In April of the following year, our high school class resumed at a temporary shack. Without materials, we could hardly study, but we graduated.
Being a teenager, I could not help but to become self-conscious about the keloid scars (raised reddish radiation burn marks) on my face and hands. I did not want anybody see my face, so when I went out, I covered my face with a cloth.
I lost my loving mother. The sorrow changed my view of life. I began to think anything that is tangible is doomed to decay. On the other hand, however, there was another me who wanted to seek something eternal that would not change forever. To seek it, I decided to go to college. I was accepted at the University of Hiroshima, but shortly after that, I contracted tuberculosis, so I had to take two years off from school.
When I returned to school, my father suggested that I take a calligraphy course. I obtained teaching licenses for Japanese literature and calligraphy.
A few years later, I met my wife and we got married. When she got pregnant with our first child, I worried a lot, thinking that the radiation might pass on to our baby.
But my wife gave birth to a healthy baby. Our baby girl was pure, innocent and full of vitality. The birth of our child gradually changed my view of life to a more positive way. I was determined to do something to contribute to the peace of the world.
In 1964, I joined in the World Peace Study Mission, led by Ms. Barbara Reynolds, a Quaker and a peace activist. About 50 of us, including A-bomb survivors like me, visited the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe, as well as the United Nations during a month-and-half-long tour, urging the world to abolish nuclear weapons.
It is our duty as a survivor to pass down our experience to younger generations. To this day, nuclear weapons and radiation continue to threaten human beings. The world has yet to learn the lesson.
Abstract calligraphy is a way to express our subconscious mind, the mind that is deep inside of us. Much of my work is based on my own poems. That way I can express my inner voice in calligraphy.
In doing calligraphy, once you hit a stroke, it is not erasable. Every stroke of the brush is a one-time opportunity, like our life.