The Day the Sun Fell

      On the morning of August 6, 1945, I stepped out the door and looked up to another serene, blue Hiroshima sky.

     The air-raid alert earlier that morning had soon been canceled. A false detection? The cicadas on our cedar trees had awakened and begun their cheee-cheee. It was shaping up to be hot.

     I was a 14-year-old student in the third year of girls upper school. The student mobilization program begun in April of the previous year had assigned me to the Postal Savings Bureau. The drawn-out war had bled the workforce of men; students in middle school and upwards had to step in for them at factories and other workplaces.

     My family lived in a northeast district, near Hiroshima Castle; the Savings Bureau stood in the south, near the Red Cross Hospital. It took an hour to cross the city each morning, because students weren’t allowed to use the trams. Many of us walked two or three kilometers.

     When the siren sounded, I had been en route to work and turned back. I ended up 30 minutes late to work. As usual, I walked in the side entrance and climbed the narrow staircase to the office on the third floor.

     The first thing we mobilized students did was haul bundles of savings vouchers up the center staircase in our office. They had been delivered the previous day from various post offices. In the registry room on the next floor we checked the names on the vouchers and took out the appropriate master registry books.

     At the end of the day, when the entries had been made in the accounts, we put the registry books away and went home. We filled the hours between these tasks learning the Postal Ministry’s special numeral system and performing easy deskwork.

     Once a month, Savings Bureau staff gathered for an abacus contest. Tomoyanagi-san, a worker in my section, always won easily. This straightforward and quiet woman used our lunch breaks to teach me abacus.

     And after the atomic bomb exploded, she saved my life.


     The day before, we students had each received a can of mandarin oranges, one of the many goods that had become scarce during the war. I’d taken mine home and placed it on a shelf for my brother who’d evacuated to the countryside with his class. I meant to take it to him the next visiting day.

     When I got to my office, I took the money for the canned oranges to my section leader. His desk stood next to the window, facing inward.

     It happened when I stood next to his chair, holding out the money. A tremendous, extraordinary flash came through the window. I turned northwest to face one instant of hundreds, thousands of bundled beams, radiating dazzling rainbow beauty.

     The sun fell! Heaven and earth just switched places!


     When I came to, I was squatting, crammed into a pitch-black space. Thinking I’d been blinded, I tried to wriggle into the air-raid posture we’d been carefully taught: fingers pressed against eyelids to prevent eyeballs from popping out; thumbs against ears to prevent eardrums from shattering; body folded over stomach to keep it from exploding. But I had no room to maneuver.

     Keeping my eyes and ears covered, I remained in my rigid squat. All was silent. In a bit, something warm and sticky started oozing down my right arm. Maybe it had been a napalm bomb and the oil was starting to trickle through the building. . . . If so, the upper floors must already be burning! Imagining my classmates trying to escape flames in the large office, I tried harder to compress my body.

     The ooze of the warm, sticky stuff down my arm to the elbow suddenly increased. I cautiously removed my hands from my eyes and ears. The darkness seemed to move. I could see a little. I slowly lifted my arms and looked at them. My palms were smeared with blood. It seemed to be running from somewhere over my right ear. I must be injured.

     I remembered the first-aid bag in my desk. I worked my way to a standing position and was flabbergasted. The room was suffused in clouds of dust. Desks, chairs, and bookcases piled every which way.

     I seemed to be standing near a pillar in the middle of the large room. I must have been thrown there from near the window. Where was my desk? I clambered and pushed aside the jungle of desks until I finally found my own. I got my emergency bag from the drawer and pulled out the cotton bandage. I was tying it around my head when I heard a raspy, “Get out!”

     Bathed in clouds of charcoal–colored dust, one black figure, then another, started staggering toward the exit.

     Until just now, a high-voltage electric cable had hung outside our third-floor windows. Now, it thrust itself into the south half of our office, its large coils winding almost to the ceiling.

     I had to get from my desk in the northeast corner all the way to the exit. I carefully touched the first coil. It was dead. Pressing my right hand against the wound on my head and pushing aside coils with my left hand, I worked my way over.

     My legs kept getting caught in the coils. It was slow going; many times I nearly fell. I gasped when a white face appeared in front of me. It was a man known fondly around the office as Chiang Kai-shek (the Chinese nationalist leader) because of his shaved head and similar features. I saw no injury, but the man was dead.

     My body froze in terror. I had never seen a dead person.

     I finally got out in the corridor and along with other people from the third floor and people descending from the fourth floor. Wildly disheveled hair and dust-covered bodies—a procession of ghosts trying to get to the stairs.

     I joined the procession and made it over to the stairs. I had descended two or three steps when I saw a little girl lying in front of me. The blast must have knocked off her clothes and ripped her abdomen open. Pushing out from the hole were light pink intestines.

     She was around four and her name was Yuki-chan. Yuki-chan would show up to work with her mother, a cleaning woman, “helping” her by wielding a duster or a broom.

     Pearl-skinned, friendly, and adorable, Yuki-chan was a great office pet. Women loved to make her into a doll by applying powder and lipstick. This child now lay naked on the stairs, writhing in pain. Each time she moved, more intestines spilled, piling up by her stomach.

     One of my classmates told me that she later saw Yuki-chan’s mother, injured and shaken, holding her daughter at the top of the stairs and crying, “My child! Someone, save my child!”

     Wanting only to get down the narrow stairs and out, everyone simply stepped over Yuki-chan. I stared down at Yuki-chan until I was pushed from the back. I chanted a Buddhist sutra as I, too, stepped over her.

     A sutra coming to my lips at this moment later led me to re-examine my relationship to religion.

     Let me explain. I was the eldest daughter of an eldest son in a patriarchical society. To keep me out of the adults’ way when I was a small girl, my grandmother used to take me along when she went to hear sermons at the temple. My grandmother and her friends said the priest at that temple was highly ranked because he wore red or purple robes.

     The purpose of his sermons was to help the parishioners get to the Pure Land after they died. Therefore, after the sermons, the parishioners would leave the temple chanting, “namu amidabutsu, namu amidabutsu. . .” with a look of heartfelt piety.

     Even I, at one, two, or three, understood those sermons. My mother thought me precocious because I was quick to understand things and could even run a little before I was one.

     When the sermon started, I would listen quietly until I got bored and wandered out to the corridor to peer at the hanging paintings. They depicted the heaven and hell that the priest had talked about and raised a lot of questions in me: Is this all true? Has anyone seen these places and come back? Is there really a world after death?

     My doubts were only fueled by the words and actions of adults. Adults listening to sermons were the picture of virtue; after they returned home, however, they badmouthed each other and told lies. Were they all headed for hell?

This is how I learned that humans have two sides and developed a mysterious curiosity about Buddha and belief in that religion.      And when I found myself chanting a sutra as I stepped over Yuki-chan, I had to reconsider my relationship to religion.

     As soon as the war ended, missionaries and nuns preaching Christianity arrived on Hiroshima’s burnt plain. Even while we were scrambling to survive, I attended Bible lectures at night. I even used breaks from work to go listen to nuns in the neighborhood. I was such an eager learner that believers urged me to get baptized. Years later, married and living in Kamakura, early mornings would find me at a Zen temple. But I was already one whom religion could not save.


     The stairwell was jammed with people trying to get out. Our desires raced ahead, but our bodies barely moved. I finally made it to the landing and looked out the window. What in the world had happened? The houses on the left were crumbling into each other like dominoes. The same thing was starting on the right side… it could not be real. Thrust into an unknown world, I was numbed, dazed.

     The bomb was now beginning to play havoc with the south side of the city, crumbling it to pieces.

     I reached the bottom and joined the staff in front of the Savings Bureau—a cluster of phantoms asking each other if we’d had a direct hit. A couple of them saw me and screamed. The blood that flowed from my elbow to my hand was quickly puddling under my feet. Tomoyanagi-san ran over to me, put her arm around my shoulders, and began leading me to the Red Cross Hospital in the distance.

     The area between the Savings Bureau and the hospital had been cleared by the building demolition project. Despite the absence of anything combustible in the area, thick columns of flame, as from large chimneys, rose here and there. The ground was blowing fire!

     A man was running around shouting, “Put out the fires! Put out the fires!”

     I said, “Let’s get water. . .” But Tomoyanagi-san simply pushed me toward the Red Cross Hospital.

The hospital–how to describe what I saw? People trying to push their intestines back in their split abdomens. People who lacked the strength to do even that, were trying to walk, dragging their intestines. Burnt skin peeling in threadlike tatters. People covered in ash or black soot, people pushing in their bulging eyeballs…

     Skins from faces and arms burnt and hanging. Lumpy red and black flesh swollen to twice the normal size. Faces whose eyes and noses could not be distinguished. People, people, people. . . they spoke no word, their bodies were burnt beyond any suggestion of gender or age. They staggered, arms raised in front, skin like rags.

     Many heads with similar hairlines—could all these men have just returned from the barber? Strange haircut! Then I realized that the hair that remained on their heads was what had been covered by their caps. The rest had burned off.

     Were these real people? How did they all get this way? What on earth had happened?

     I must be dreaming. My nightmare increasingly filled with people who no longer looked human.

     Tomoyanagi-san got me to the hospital waiting room. I lay down in the middle of the room; my consciousness began to fade until my eyes refused to open. Tomoyanagi-san must have called over a doctor. “This is severe blood loss. If you let her sleep, she’ll die,” I heard the doctor’s footsteps recede as Tomoyanagi-san shouted my name into my ear.

     But a tantalizing drowsiness was drawing me to the bottom of a dark, deep valley. From far, far above, Tomoyanagi-san’s calls would pull me up, then fade away. Just when I thought she was gone for good, her voice came close again.      The persistent arms of sleep enveloped me so enticingly that many times I simply wanted her to let me be.

     I don’t know how much time passed. Each time she brought me back, more injured people were lying around me and it was harder to breathe. Suddenly, a commotion. “Enemy planes!” yelled someone. Tomoyanagi-san lifted me up and dragged me down to the basement. Facing backwards, I felt my legs hitting each step. I believe she laid me down on lattice-work boards covering part of the basement floor. Groggy as I was, I was aware of Tomoyanagi-san and two other women who worked at the Bureau. Their voices drifted in and out.

    “What in the world happened?” “Did a bomb fall directly on the Bureau?” “How could that be, after the air raid alert was canceled!”

     The tiny effort to open my eyes sent me deeper into the cloud.

     How much time passed? As I drifted between sleep and wakefulness, a little strength must have returned in some deep recess, because I spoke. “What do you think happened?” My feeble query seemed to reassure Tomoyanagi-san that I would live. She cried out in relief. I tried to say something else, but she interrupted, soothing me like a mother.

    “It’s all right. Hush now.” Now that I seemed out of danger, Tomoyanagi-san’s mind focused on her mother. “I’ve got to go home and make sure she’s all right. Once I’ve done that, I’ll come right back, so don’t move. I promise I’ll come back.” She tried to reassure me, pled with her coworkers to take care of me, and left. I wanted to speak to her, but that little effort had used up my reserves. I didn’t get to thank her. Forlornly, I listened to her departing footsteps.

Then I simply lay, no longer trying to open my eyes or speak. The whispers of the coworkers were ripples in the sea, ebbing out, slipping back. I must have slept.

    “The building’s on fire!”

    “Everyone, out!” Commotion and the stench of smoke opened my eyes.

    “What do we do about this girl?”

    “Can’t carry her.”

    “But Tomoyanagi-san begged us to take care of her!”

    “Can we even get out ourselves, hurt like this?”

    “What’ll we do?” I was causing quite a problem for the two women. I felt that my life had barely returned from the brink, enough to allow a whisper, but not movement.

    “Please, hurry and get out.”


    “It’s all right. Please go.”

     They stood uncertainly. “We’re so sorry. If only we weren’t injured, we could carry you. We’re very sorry.” After repeated apologies, the two women left. I wonder if they survived.

     The basement seemed to empty. I simply lay in the new silence, taking in the faint smell of smoke and burning until it turned sharp. The fire was coming round to me.

     I was able to slit my eyes. Something bright was lighting the room from the left. I looked toward the light thinking, that’s the exit. New smoke came billowing in, as if pushed by the wind. It was at first thin and feathery; it quickly darkened and thickened. Finally, it charged in, seething masses shaped like cumulus clouds. I thought, when that smoke gets to me, I die.

     Quietly, I waited. I felt neither anguish, pain, nor fear. Death stood in front of me; I waited for nature to take its course.

     Just when the mass of black smoke rolled over to me, someone ran through the basement shouting. “Anyone in here? If there is, get out!” The fierce power of that voice seemed to push me. I struggled to my feet. The soles of my feet did not seem to touch the floor. Walking on a cloud in an unreal world, I began to totter toward the exit. As I neared it, another unsteady person started toward me, someone… uncanny, ghastly. Long, disheveled hair. Half of the deathly pale face plastered with fresh blood: this, too, matted with wild hair. Quivering, vacant eyes stared steadily at me. I stopped in my tracks, instinctively covered my face, and waited for attack.

     Nothing happened. I peeked. Was it not looking through its fingers at me––with fear? I walked up to it, stuck out my hand, and hit the wall. A mirror. I was looking at myself.

     I crawled up the stairs through the smoke. I made it to the ground floor and teetered out the front entrance.

     There, I saw a man from my neighborhood. He stood on the stone steps looking toward the entrance, pulling off tufts of a cottony mass in his hand and sticking these all over his body. Strange behavior, but I was so happy to see someone I knew that I spoke up. “Uncle, this is Fumiko. Fumiko Kaneyuki.”

     A quick glance at me, then he resumed sticking the cotton tufts all over his body. “Uncle, what are you doing?” Another glance, then he walked away without a word. For years thereafter, this man and I continued to live in the same neighborhood, but neither ever mentioned our encounter on August 6.

     After my neighbor left me, I walked out to the plaza in front of the hospital. Five or six others were sitting more or less in a line on the dirt. Were they in line for treatment? I dazedly sat down at the end of the line. What had happened? The city that stood there this morning was gone. Everywhere I looked was flat. I blinked repeatedly, testing my eyes. Was this real or a nightmare?

     I looked at the people strewn around. Motionless black lumps, or burnt red and black all over, swollen. On some I could not make out the face, much less guess gender or age. They wandered like ghosts or lay on the ground, their bodies were torn rags. Truly, each was a dumbstruck, solitary torn mass of rags. Not humans. It had to be a nightmare.

     Again, I stared toward town. Where is my mother? Is evening coming? Color is leaving the world. My mother must be there in the distance. I said to a man sitting in front of me gazing at the city. “Do you know what happened to Hakushima?”

     He continued to stare blankly.

    “Which part of Hakushima?” The question came from a boy sitting behind me. “I have relatives in Hakushima. The Murai family.”

    “Murai? The Murai’s live in my neighborhood.” We might have had a few more exchanges before he asked, “How old are you?”

    “Fourteen.” Then he clammed up and returned to staring at the disappeared city.

     None of the people sitting in the line had received or seemed to seek treatment. They simply sat and watched the disappeared city.


     Soon, the flames made their way to the back of the Red Cross Hospital. Those who could walk away did. Those who could crawl did. The collapsed, crushed, disappeared city was turning to ash.

     I could neither walk nor crawl—I didn’t even want to. The boy helped me get to the shrubbery patch in the front of the hospital. He was wounded on his forehead. Strips of bloody cloth wound diagonally around his naked chest must have covered a wound there.

     He could walk. But for some reason, he didn’t leave.


     Night came. In the heavy darkness, we could see people being carried off the premises on stretchers.      The army must have been running the Red Cross Hospital, because everyone on a stretcher was a soldier.


T     he army doctor seemed to stop next to the speaker lying on the ground. “Can you stand?”

    “Yes sir!”

    “Then get up and go away from the flames. Don’t stop! If you do, you’re finished.”

    “Yes sir!”

     Another voice from the darkness. “Doctor!”

    “Take your hands off your abdomen.”

    “If I do, my intestines will spill!”

     I believe the soldier who said that was left behind.

     From the people left lying in the darkness, I heard groans of pain, but no one begging for rescue except soldiers. Of those who fled or were carried away from the hospital grounds—who survived?



     The splintered city burned brightly through the night. Firestorms raging from the back enveloped the concrete hospital and began spewing thick, howling flames through the windows.

     Fire called wind; wind called more fire. The heavens thundered; the earth’s growls reverberated everywhere. Golden hell-fires rampaged over our heads.

     Huddled under the low shrubs, we watched this incredible scene wordlessly. From golden heavens, golden sparks rained. Next to my ears, the leaves of the shrubs crackled; my hair burned and hissed.

     The boy found a sheet somewhere. Trying to avoid sparks, we silently took in the spectacle.

     I thought of neither living nor dying. Let the gods decide….


     In time, he quietly said his name and asked me mine. He was Yoshiaki Iida, 16 years old. “What do you like to do?”

     When I told him I was a reader, he said quietly, “I read too. I like music. Music is the language of God.”


     That morning, he continued softly, he had been at home with his younger sister when the bomb fell.      Somehow, he crawled out of the collapsed house. His sister called from deep in the rubble, but he could see no sign of her.

     He desperately pulled off pieces of roof to get to her, but the neighbor’s roof had fallen on top of the Iida’s roof; the walls of his house were smashed under both roofs.

     Old-style Japanese lath walls were made by weaving slender strips of bamboo into a grid, tying them with straw, then applying two or three layers of plaster. Lath walls, even when crumbled, could not be torn up with bare hands.

Iida-san could not tell where his sister lay. As he continued to dig, the fires came.

     Under the house rubble, she screamed, “It’s hot! It’s hot! Pour water over me!” He got a bucket, ran to the cistern, and dumped water on what seemed to be the right area.

     From his invisible sister, a feeble “Thank you.” The flames reached his feet. Her broken screams rose. “Brother, run! Please! Hurry!”

     He choked up and fell silent. Some time later, he dropped the words, “My sister was 14.”


     After fleeing his house, he heard a trapped neighbor scream and dug her out of her rubble. Since her legs were injured, he carried her on his back to the riverbed,. Leaving his neighbor with the crowds of people there, he waded to the other side. It must have been low tide.

     His home was in Eba, a southwest district. His mother, a housewife mobilized for the war effort, worked at a plant in Ujina-cho, the military port district that formed the city’s south border.

     To get to his mother’s workplace, he waded across the Hon and Motoyasu rivers. When he arrived at the Red Cross Hospital, he joined the train of people who were going in. Maybe the large wounds on forehead and chest had sapped his strength.

     He told me all this with the calm of one who has known the far reaches of torment. Did I speak? His gentle tone drew me into the serene sleep of a small child.


     Later, the cold awoke me. The flames over our heads had subsided; the golden light had faded into darkness. Corpses covered the depths of heavy darkness; among them, the groans of the dying crawled the earth.

     The sheet was now folded in half, covering me only. The boy was gone. The chill of fear shot through. Since the bombing, it was the first time panic had seized me.

     Where has he gone? He was all I had; without him, the fear was unbearable. I tried to stand up to search for him. No strength. I sat on the ground and scanned with my eyes. Nowhere to be seen.

     I’ll call him. But what to call him? I whispered to myself the word “brother.”

     Then I yelled it. “Brother!” My raw human shriek rode over the dead and the nearly dead, trailing eerily off in the darkness. It frightened me so much that I did not try it again.


     The deepest part of the hospital waiting room continued to burn. I saw a black silhouette framed in that light. It was he. What was he doing? Holding a kettle in one hand, he moved slowly, giving sips of water to the dying. He would kneel, stand, take a few steps, kneel again. The gentle, sad pattern continued.

    “Music is the language of God,” he had said. I now saw God in him. At that moment, on the earth he was the only one standing and walking. Relief allowed me to sleep again.


     The next time I awoke, it was a very cold dawn. I saw the carcass of a city sunken in moist, blue haze and smoke, like the bottom of the sea. Purple mist, blue-gray smoke.

     It was perfectly quiet. No stir from even the tiniest forms of life. Dawn in the city of death.

     Next to me, the boy slept quietly, streaks of dried blood frozen on his pale face and brow.

     He’s dead! Fear.

     I softly touched his forehead. Cold as ice.

     I touched my lips to his nose and mouth to feel his breath. Nothing.

     Terrified, I pressed my face and ears against his naked chest. Somewhere deep inside, I heard a faint beat.

     He’s alive! Painful joy filled my heart.

     He quietly opened his eyes and regarded me with a weak smile. “It’s over for me. If you make it, please tell my mother where I died. She works at an arms plant in Ujina.”

    “Don’t die! Please!”

     He shook his head hopelessly and drifted back to sleep. His face showed neither fatigue nor suffering; I was too petrified to do anything but watch.

     His breath was faint but he slept on and on; a serene slumber that seemed to accept everything.

     Dawn in Hiroshima on August 7, 1945.


     It grew brighter.

     In the chill mist, ragged people were returning to the hospital in ones and twos.

     Powerful thirst seized me. Like a thirst that had grown for months. An unnatural thirst.

     Where can I get water? I tried to stand. I'm up! I stepped onto my right leg, then my left. I’m walking!

     I staggered out of the circle and started around the shrubbery. About half way around the circle, I saw a water sprinkler. A man walked up to it. When he leaned over to drink, his large upper body covered the tap.

     He gulped noisily, like an animal. His head was cracked open in the shape of a crescent moon.      Reddish-brown thick matter was moving steadily, as to a beat. How can this man be alive? Astonished and moved, I waited for him to finish.

     Behind me, another man was walking and shouting a name; given the condition of those lying on the grounds, it was the only way to find someone. Too weak even to turn around, I wished that my father would look for me like this man was doing.

     In truth, that man could well have been my father.

     My father later told me that around that time he was searching for me at the Red Cross Hospital. At first light, he had woven through the smoke to get to the Savings Bureau. A male worker told him, “A high-school girl? The mobilized students were all taken to Ninoshima Island.” That was all he heard.

     The small island of Ninoshima was far south of the Savings Bureau.

     The horrendous sights that had assailed my father on his way to the hospital had robbed him of hope.      Take a boat to Ninoshima? Having left behind in Hakushima my grievously injured brother, my mother, and her family, he decided to go to Ninoshima the next day. But before heading for home, he’d try the Red Cross Hospital.

     Later, he told me that coming up to the hospital by the shrubs, he saw a large man drinking water. He saw brain matter through a large crack in the man’s head. He thought, “Poor fellow. Two or three days, that’s the most he has.”

     Looking around, he saw that the prone people were burnt and flayed beyond recognition. He began calling my name. Another man, apparently following my father’s example, began calling a name too.

     Which man did I hear? Barely alive, groggy, I was unable to distinguish my father’s voice.

     But since he and I both saw the man with the split head drink water, I think it was my father whom I heard calling. Though he walked right by me, my altered appearance threw him off. Neither did I turn to look.


     Did I ever get that drink? I think not. Suddenly seized by abdominal cramps, I looked for privacy. I found nothing like a wall to shelter me, but at least secured a bit of distance before terrible diarrhea struck.

     The first symptom of my radiation exposure.

     In the distance, people were crowding around a cart. I stumbled my way over to someone handing out dried bread (a biscuit-like hard bread produced for the military).

     My father would later tell me that that cart wheeled up as he entered the hospital.

     Though I had no appetite, I asked for three packets of hard bread: for Iida-san, for me, and for the little brother I hoped to see again.

     Like everyone else, my first-grade brother was always hungry. We were subsisting on defatted soy meal.      Not enough of even that to fill our bellies. Of course, we hadn’t seen meat or fish in a long time. Or sugar—any kind of sweets.

     How happy my brother would be! I could almost see his thin, sun-burnt face light up!

     I must not have been strong enough to clutch even three small packets, because by the time I got back to Iida-san, my hands were empty.


     He must have been looking for me. He looked relieved as he walked up to me. The sight of him moving again reassured me greatly.

    “Ujina evidently survived the fires. Let’s go where my mother works and get treatment for our injuries. Once you’ve got some strength, I’ll help you get to Hakushima.” Obediently, I left the hospital with this boy who’d been my only support since yesterday.

     I vaguely remembered having removed and thrown away my blouse at some point the day before. Drenched and reeking of blood, it was too heavy to support in my condition. As a teenage girl, I could hardly throw away my trousers. Also suffused with my blood were pant legs hard as planks. With each movement they rubbed painfully against the hair on my legs.      Trying to hold the cloth away from my skin, I stepped slowly.

     Hiroshima University had stood in front of the Red Cross Hospital. We’d watched it burn down the night before. Iida strode into the charred grounds but gradually slowed to a halt. He stood looking down in one spot for a long time.

     Too weak to follow, from the street I stared at his lonely, grieving form sunk in thought.

     Maybe I shouted that I was thirsty. He had a little milk bottle hanging from his waist. He saw water gushing from a broken pipe and went through the rubble to fill it.

     Yet, I don’t recall either of us taking a sip.

     On the streetcar street in front of Hiroshima Electric Train Company, we saw a young horse, dead. Not a burn or wound on its glossy, lovely coat. Why is this horse dead? I’d seen so many, burnt, tattered corpses since yesterday. A spasm of horror rooted me to the spot until Iida-san gently urged me on.

     Behind the train company, near the Miyuki Bridge, a cluster of houses remained erect. My mother’s aunt lived in that area. Asking him to wait for me at the foot of the bridge, I walked to her house.

     In a gap between the walls of her house I found my great-aunt with a strip of white cloth wrapped around her head. Having seen nothing that was not charred since yesterday, my eyes were hurt by the whiteness. At the sight of me, my great-aunt recoiled and sank trembling to the floor. She thought I was a ghost.

     Thirty minutes previous, my father had been by her house. “I couldn’t find Fumiko. I give up for today. Heading back. Our family and the Doi’s (my mother’s family) are injured but alive. Fumiko’s the only one we can’t find.”

     They’re all alive! My mother is alive! I ached for my mother.


     Iida-san was waiting for me at the foot of Miyuki Bridge. I told him what I had heard and announced, “I’m going to Hakushima.”

     Iida-san protested vehemently. “You’ll never make it in that condition! Just come with me to my mother’s. After you get first-aid and a little energy back, I promise I’ll take you home.”

     It was much closer to his mother’s in Ujina than all the way across the burnt desert to Hakushima. And Ujina hadn’t burned. And I would have to cross the smoking rubble of the city from the far south for the far north. But I had to see my mother.

    “Not in that state!”

     I declared that I was going home no matter what.

     He gave up. “Here, take this.” He took from his pant pocket a jackknife and held it out. My eyes darted between it and his face. For the first time, I saw him as a young man.

     It wasn’t just dating that was forbidden. If a girl and boy even talked, they were stepping over to the dark side. Accepting a present from a boy—evil! I shook my head fiercely. He thrust it out again. Shaking my head, I turned and ran away.

     My emotions did, anyway. My body could only totter. He shouted anxiously after me; I ignored him. When I got some distance, I turned back to look. He remained in the same spot, his arm outstretched.


     I walked. I walked. In every direction yawned a scorched plain. Here and there smoke rose.

     Intent only on the thin, white road, I was heading north, north to Hakushima. Teetering, persevering. If I stopped, I knew I’d collapse.

     Cropping up on the way was a single utility pole, a tree trunk. In the midst of the crumbled wreckage, why was one blackened utility pole—now a stick of charcoal—standing? Anxiously, I tried to run—as if I could run—past it!

     Presently, my eyes were arrested by white skeletons in a roadside water cistern. The large skeleton leaned against the wall and held to its chest the little skeleton. Mother and child, I thought.

     Still in the positions of their encounter with death, tenderness and sorrow still emanating from the skull of the mother bending protectively over her child—probably an infant—pierced my heart. At the same time, amazement—why have these skeletons not fallen down?

     The charcoal post, still standing. Skeletons just as they were when they were alive. Had I walked out of the real world into a nightmare?

     Whenever I saw a cistern, I teetered up and peered in. All were full of skeletons. Leaning against the wall. Huddled in corners, knees drawn up. They had successfully fled the street fires merely to burn up in the bottom of a cistern. Some were folded over the tops of cisterns—lower halves outside. How could upper halves burn down to white bones while lower halves remained partially intact, draped with tattered clothing or skin?

     No cistern retained a drop of moisture.

     As if under a spell, I pushed on, peering into cisterns, shedding any desire to pray.

     From around Shirakami on, I no longer saw corpses. For years to come, I wondered why I did not see corpses near the hypocenter. However, when I saw the animated film Pikadon I found the answer. That film showed people and other matter near the hypocenter turning to dust and disappearing. I also heard that the Akatsuki Corps stationed in Ujina came in and disposed of corpses—but it was early morning of the day they did so that I walked near the hypocenter.

     When did I get to Hakushima? How many hours did it take? Through a city absent of not only people, but dogs, cats, birds, cicadas. Anything that lived, moved. No rustle of tree leaves, no sound of any kind. A city of death.

     Having past the hypocenter area, I finally reached Fukuya Department Store at Hatchobori. Nothing was left of the building but its shell. I peered apprehensively into the interior. All was black.

     Had I been well, Hakushima would have been only 12 or 13 minutes away. Almost there. Urging myself forward, I left Fukuya behind and soon spied in the distance the uniquely shaped Communications Bureau. How comforting! Beyond that “L” shape would be my house. I had made it home!

     Making my own “L” as I turned the corner, I saw three people. A tight human cluster holding each other up and staggering my way. What grabbed my eyes were the outsized, bright white shoes that the one in the middle clumped along in. White—pure white! A color that had disappeared from the world.

     Living people, walking people. I stood, transfixed. Since saying goodbye to Iida-san, I’d seen nothing that lived or moved. Is this another dream?

    “Isn’t that Fumiko?” shouted one. They were seriously injured, not much to look at, but I recognized them. Welcoming me home were my mother, my sister, and my aunt.


                 Translated by Elizabeth Walker Baldwin



日本ペンクラブ 電子文藝館編輯室
This page was created on 2016/09/14



  • 目に優しいモード
  • 標準モード

橋爪 文

ハシヅメ ブン
はしづめ ぶん 詩人 1931年 広島県広島市に生まれる。1945年8月6日、広島に原子爆弾が投下された。14歳の時、爆心地より1.6キロの勤労動員中の郵便局で被爆し瀕死の重傷を負ったが、人々の助けで奇跡的に生きのびた。命の恩人たちは原爆症などでその後亡くなり、生き残された者の重みを背負いながら、さまざまな創作活動(詩・随筆・歌曲・合唱曲など)に取り組んできた。その傍ら世界各地で、原爆体験を語る「反核平和ひとり行脚」を展開してきた。

HASHIZUME Bun Poet. Born in 1931 in Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture. When the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, she was fourteen and mobilized for work at a post office 1.6 kilometers from the epicenter. She was gravely injured but miraculously survived thanks to the help from many people. As she saw those who had saved her and others around her die from radiation illness and other reasons, she realized the duty of a survivor to shoulder the burden, becoming engaged in a wide range of creative activities from poetry to essays to lyrics for songs and chorus, and going for an “Anti-nuclear and Peace Solo Walk” around the world to talk about her own experience of suffering from the bomb. ・・・・・・・ The work posted here is “A fourteen-year-old girl’s story of experiencing an atomic bombing,” published by Koubunken in 2001, a narrative of Bun’s walk alone back to her home and what she sees in the “town of death” the morning after the bombing. This story was also depicted in a TV animation program titled “Newsround / Hiroshima: Bun Hashizume’s story of survival” broadcast by BBC of the United Kingdom in 2015 (and available on Youtube). Upon posting her work to the digital library “Denshibungeikan”, the work translated into English as “The Day the Sun Fell” and French as『Le jour où le soleil est tombé-J’avais quatorze ans à Hiroshima』is also included in addition to the first chapter of the original story.