Hiroshima Survivor Remembers That Horrific Day


Featured Article by Tara Shiina Morimoto Wakely, New America Media

“If you cut off a piece of fingernail and burn it…that’s what burning human flesh smells like,” said Seiko Fujimoto, who was just three years old when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Even so, her memories of that day are vivid: “If you ask me to draw a picture of what I saw, I could do it perfectly. There were people holding their hands out in front of them, skin melting off their bodies…watering holes overflowing with corpses.”

She pauses and adds, “To this day, I can hear people moaning “mizu… mizu” (water, water).

On Aug. 6, 1945, the atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, followed by the Aug. 9 detonation of the “Fat Man” over Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945.

The bombs instantly killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki, most of them civilians. Said to be over many million degrees centigrade in temperature, the bombs instantly vaporized those near their epicenter.

Many more victims died from the combined effects of flash and radiation burns, trauma, infection, malnutrition and radiation sickness. People have since continued to suffer from radiation-induced leukemia and other cancers.

The surviving victims are called hibakusha, a Japanese word that literally translates to “explosion-affected people.”

Seiko’s father was an Imperial Navy officer stationed in Tokyo. She and her one-year-old brother had been sent to Hiroshima to live with relatives, as Tokyo was considered unsafe. Her uncle and aunt perished in their burning house, while she and her brother were pulled out from the rubble by passers-by. She does not know what happened to her cousin — “probably killed near the railway, on the way to school,” she speculates.

Fujimoto has scars on her back from shrapnel and glass, and has suffered from unexplained dizzy spells. Her hair fell out immediately after the bombing from radiation exposure and initially grew back blonde — she had to dye it before going back to school to avoid bullying from the other kids.

Four years after the bombing, Seiko’s brother died of leukemia at the age of five.

President Obama’s determination to eradicate nuclear weapons, as outlined in his speech in Prague this past April, has ignited renewed hope in survivors like Fujimoto. “The United States will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same,” Obama said.

Today, Japan and the world are marking the 64th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only nuclear weapon attacks in history to date. Although the anniversary is observed annually, this year is especially important in light of the recent attention to possible nuclear threats. As Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said, “The momentum toward abolishing nuclear weapons is rising as never before.”

Members of a Peace Symposium in Hiroshima on Aug. 1 unveiled plans to invite world leaders to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to hold disarmament talks.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue plans to push the Japanese government to play a leading international role on nuclear issues, as the atomic bombings have led Japan to hold one of the world’s firmest non-nuclear policies.

In a recent New York Times article, world-famous designer and survivor Issey Miyake said Obama’s pledge to seek a nuclear-free world made him realize “that I have, perhaps now more than ever, a personal and moral responsibility to speak out as one who survived what Mr. Obama called the ‘flash of light.’

Furthermore, former President Clinton’s dramatic and successful diplomatic endeavor to free the American journalists in North Korea no doubt has ignited hope for dialogue with its leader about its nuclear capabilities.

Seiko Fujimoto said she suffers tremendous pangs of survivor’s guilt. Hibakusha, especially those with visible injuries, scarring, or disease, have faced a lifetime of discrimination and alienation. The constant worry of developing cancer and disease looms over them. Seiko continues to be anxious about the health of her children — no one knows exactly what the effects are on second-generation hibakusha.

There is currently enough nuclear weaponry in the world to equal 700,000 Hiroshimas, according to reports. A nuclear war today would almost certainly result in the end of civilization.

While the very real fear of nuclear war hangs over the world, Obama’s words give hope to people like Fujimoto who believe in peace: “Let us honor our past by reaching for a better future. Let us bridge our divisions, build upon our hopes, and accept our responsibility to leave this world more prosperous and more peaceful than we found it. Together, we can do it.”

Fujimoto tells her story in painful detail, as she believes in the importance of passing on one of history’s harshest lessons.

“It must never, ever happen again,” she says.

Tara Shiina Morimoto Wakely contributes to the Nichi Bei Times newspaper in San Francisco.

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