“The miracle of the underground room.” A panel exhibited at Fukuromachi Elementary School Peace Museum has this explanation. It is about 460 meters from the hypocenter. The burned-out reinforced concrete West Building was partially preserved by the city and opened to the public in 2002. The fact that three children were saved from the bombing in the basement is testified to by their initials, “A,” “O,” and “T,” as reported by the media at that time. However, what happened after the “miracle” was not mentioned.
All three of the children became atomic bomb orphans. The following is based on the author’s previous reportage and on documents provided by the people themselves and their families.
Following his father’s death from illness, “A,” who was in the fourth grade, lost his mother, grandparents, and siblings—eight family members—in the atomic bombing. Taken in by his father’s younger sister, who lived in Matsue, he graduated from middle school, and then began training at a sushi restaurant, where he both worked and lived. At the restaurant, whose owner would become his father-in-law, he earned his independence, as well as two children, a boy and girl. But in 1993, at the age of 57, he died of stomach cancer.
Watching TV programs about the atomic bombing, he would give vent to his feelings, “it was more than that”. However, he dared not tell the details about the experience to his wife and his eldest son who took over his restaurant.
“T,” who escaped while holding his classmate A’s hand, lived half a life with continual changes. His younger brother, with whom he had gone to school together on that day (eight years old at the time) died. His mother (thirty years old), who made a living as a tailor (in place of his father, who had died of an illness), was missing. Then, he met a man from the Korean Peninsula who boarded at his home and started to live together in a barrack. However, it was washed away by typhoon Makurazaki on September 17, 1945, and he moved to Soul together with the man. T worked as a shoe polishing boy for American soldiers stationed there and slept in a straw bag in the street. He also experienced the Korean War, where bullets flew back and forth. Upon turning 20 years old, when he started to work and live at a bakery, he began to visit governmental offices and Soul to request repatriation, but it was refused since there were then no diplomatic relations.
“I miss my hometown.” A letter asking for a Certificate of Family Registration was delivered to Hiroshima City in 1958. Along with the cooperation from the mayor of Seoul, he finally managed to return to Japan, his heart’s wish, in June 1960, just before the diplomatic relationship was restored. He had completely forgotten the Japanese language, so the letter was written by a lady who treated him like her real son. Introduced by Hiroshima City, he worked at a Japanese sweet jelly shop, but he recalled “the days when his mother and brother had been alive no matter how he tried not to…”. Since his repatriation was reported in a highly-detailed manner, he was viewed with curiosity. Then, he moved to Osaka counting on connections with Korean nationals residing in Japan, and married at the age of 30. While working at a stainless process work factory, he brought up four sons and one daughter. After establishing a stable life, he looked for the lady who had supported him by taking an opportunity to visit Korea. In 1995, when he called for the information via a local TV show, he finally met a daughter of the deceased lady. T lives alone after losing his beloved wife in 2013, however, he is still in good health residing in Osaka. He turns 82 this year.
“O” was in the second grade. He lost six family members including his father (45 years old at that time) and his mother (44 years old) and siblings. He was separated from his older brothers and sisters, who had just returned from a student evacuation, and taken by the Hiroshima Prefectural Ninoshima Orphanage. On August 6, 1952, when the occupation by GHQ ended, he was selected as one of the five students who served at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony to unveil the memorial cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Victims. After graduating from high school, he entered a photo school in Osaka with support from his elder brother. He ran a photo developing shop in Hiroshima and married in 1964. He visited his parents’ graves in a temple in Teramachi (present-day Naka Ward) together with his wife. After the rental contract with his building expired, O became a taxi driver but could not work for long due to health reasons. At the age of 34, he started to work as a city officer and became a father of two sons and then purchased a house. In 1991, he suffered from stomach cancer and undertook surgery to remove the organ.
“Nothing could be changed by telling.” He was unwilling to respond to interviews on the 50th anniversary of the bombing. Children who lost their parents unveiled the memorial epitaph for the atomic bomb victims. He would question and answer within himself: “How are they doing?” “They also don’t want to meet me.” In response to a request from Fukuromachi Elementary School, where they had read an article about him, he spoke about his a-bomb experience, but did not appear in front of the media again. O died at the age of 70 in 2007.
His wife said, “About three months before he passed away, he spoke passionately about his time as an orphan, which he had never spoken about before. I never thought about him passing away. I should have asked about his experiences more.” O must have struggled until the end of his life to find closure.
Here I would like to introduce a story about brothers who supported each other after the atomic bombing despite being separated, one in Japan, the other in Brazil. They were born in then-Zaimoku-cho, and their family ran a timber shop. The location is now the site of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
The elder brother was a freshman at Hiroshima City Daichi Kogyo High School (closed after the bombing). He was exposed to the radiation from the bomb near the Tsurumibashi Bridge when he was engaged in building removal (to prevent fire spreading in air raids). His mother (35 years old at the time) and younger brothers and sisters (4 family members) were killed. He himself and his younger brother (in the fourth grade at Nakanoshima Elementary School), who had been evacuated to Mirasaka-cho in a group evacuation, survived. His father died from illness, so there was no choice but to rely on his maternal grandmother, residing in Higashisenda-machi (present-day Naka Ward). The elder brother quit school and began to work and live in a joiner’s shop. The younger brother ran away from his grandmother’s home the year after his brother started work. He was found near Hiroshima Station and became one of the first 34 charges of Ninoshima Orphanage for War Children.
The elder brother encouraged his younger brother in letters. “I’m sorry that I said some unpleasant things to you when we last met. However, everything depends on how you look at it. Get your act together! Keep your chin up and move forward. Don’t give ground to anyone. Do your best!”
The younger brother started working for farmer in Kakemachi (present-day Kitahiroshima-cho), who had been introduced by the orphanage. In 1959, when he turned 24, he moved to Brazil. The elder brother attended a farewell party conducted by a local men’s association. That was the last time they saw each other. In 1956, Hiroshima Prefectural Governor Hiroo Ohara had sought immigration permission by visiting cities in Brazil and America for two months. He tried to expand job opportunities for sons and grandsons of farmers in Hiroshima, which was still on the path to recovery. Before the war, Hiroshima had been the prefecture to send the most immigrants overseas. In Brazil, the Association of Hiroshima People, consisting of 5,500 families, was established in 1955, the year before the Hiroshima governor’s visit41.
The younger brother joined a farm in Sao Paolo run by people from Koda-cho. He cultivated a farm of nearly seven hectares, using horses, looked after the hen houses at night, and sold vegetables in a market on Saturdays. Eleven years after emigrating, he married the youngest daughter of his patron (the owner of the farm) and became a father of two. However, he did not talk much about his life in Hiroshima, telling his wife, a second-generation Japanese immigrant, only that he had a brother there. He also stopped communicating with his acquaintances in Kake-machi, to whom he only sent notification of his marriage. He passed away in 1986, at the age of 51.
I visited his wife, living in Sao Paolo, and she said, “My husband said, ‘I prefer traveling around Brazil to visiting Hiroshima.’ However, he visited a temple in Brazil on the anniversary of the bombing.” She showed me her husband’s grave. He often drank in order to forget the horror of the bombing.
I relate the story of the brothers because my wife received a letter asking to let the elder brother know about the death of the younger. The letter had been written by the chair of the Centro Cultural Hiroshima do Brasil on behalf of the younger brother’s wife. However, the elder brother’s name and address were uncertain, but the letter stated that the elder brother had resided in Zaimoku-cho before the atomic bombing. I visited acquaintances and relatives of the brothers and discovered that the elder brother had worked in Hiroshima City until 1973 as a professional joiner. However, because he had no children, and was a heavy drinker, the household had broken up, and the family had lost touch with him.
Finally, I was able to locate the elder brother, living in the Airin area, in Nishinari Ward, Osaka City, which is the largest area for daily wage workers. He was 54 years old.
“I thought my younger brother was doing well in Brazil. I wanted to visit him, if I had enough money, but things always came up…” He was stopped by tears.
He moved between construction sites in the Kansai Area, and his personal registration was in Airin Ward. “I messed up my eyes at work, and a day laborer recruiter introduced me to a cheap doctor.”
He never received an Atomic Bomb Survivors’ Certificate. After some drinking, he admitted, “Someone told me that I could make money by selling my family register document, knowing I didn’t want to collect the Atomic Bomb Survivors’ Certificate. I got sick of living in Hiroshima, since everything there is connected with the a-bomb.”
Citing one of the Chinese characters used in his younger brother’s name, he said, “My brother was happy. He got out of Japan, where he didn’t want to live, and he had children. My nephew in Brazil is the 17th generation…”
He asked me to send a picture to Brazil, and we took a picture in front of Tsutenkaku Tower. After the series of reports entitled “Brothers in the Hypocenter,” he started to get in touch with his relatives in Hiroshima, but again fell out of touch after a time. If he is in good health, he will turn 85 this year.
41 Centro Cultural Hiroshima do Brasil (ed.), Burajiru Hiroshima Kenjinkai Hattenshi narabini Kenjin Meibo (Development History of Centro Cultural Hiroshima do Brasil and List of Hiroshima Residents), Centro Cultural Hiroshima do Brasil, 1967, p38