Earthly Hell

Chizuko Kijima

IN AUGUST, 1945, I was living in the Ujina district of Hiroshima with my husband and our second son, who was two at the time. I was six months pregnant. In accordance with the government policy to evacuate as many invalids, expectant mothers, infants, and schoolchildren as possible, we had sent our elder boy to the country when his kindergarten had been closed. For a number of reasons, in spite of my pregnancy, it was impossible for me to go with him.

Until that time, Hiroshima had been spared the intensive bombing raids that other major Japanese cities had suffered. But because of the numerous strategic industries, shipyards, and military installations in the city, we were constantly in fear that our turn would come soon. Ujina would be an especially important target because in it were located a provisions depot and barracks for the Akatsuki Corps, the army equivalent of the navy Kamikaze.

In those days, all of us underwent mandatory military training. My husband, a dentist, had to attend daily training as a military doctor for a period of time. (Fortunately, he completed the course on August 5, 1945, and was not at the center when the bomb fell. Most of the people there were killed.) Though pregnant, I too was forced to take part in razing potentially dangerous buildings and in classes in the use of bamboo spears, which we were supposed to use in the event of the final, decisive battle on the home islands. Our training was held at a Shinto shrine in Ujina. We stood at attention and awaited commands from noncommissioned officers. But for me, there was no meaning in the whole undertaking. Whenever an air-raid signal sounded, with one child strapped to my back and another in my womb, I was always the last to be able to take cover. If we should have to fight on the home islands, I would be unable to make use of the bamboo spears.

One day, American aircraft dropped leaflets over Hiroshima. I saw none of them myself, but I was told that they contained a warning to the innocent citizens to evacuate the city. The Americans said they did not want civilian casualties. The military police issued orders forbidding us to read the leaflets and commanding us to pick them up and turn them in to the authorities. They are nothing but a trick on the part of the devilish Americans and savage British," they told us. The order forbidding us to read the leaflets was senseless. Because we trusted completely in the invincibility of Japan, we probably would not have believed them even if we had read them. Still, we were frightened because we knew that only recently the Americans had mounted a massive air raid on the neighboring city of Kure, where countless civilians had perished.

August 6, 1945, was hot and clear, as had been August 5. Shortly after breakfast, when the air-raid alarm sounded, I dashed to put on the pantaloons and quilted jacket that we always wore at such times. But just as I was about to take my son and leave for the shelter, the all-clear sounded. I took off the pantaloons and jacket and was opening the closet for fresh clothes when there was an unearthly flash of light and a tremendous roar. The next moment, I was blown down by a concussive wave. Then everything went dark.

Grabbing my son, I jumped into the earthen-floored entrance way of the house. I started to run for the shelter but stopped at the threshold. Outside, the ground was covered with shattered tiles and splintered glass. I was barefoot. I quickly changed my mind and, pushing my son under the floor boards, crawled in after him. In the courtyard, I heard the shouts of my husband. He seemed to be running toward the shelter.

When the dust settled and I could see better, I put on some shoes and went outside. My husband had come back. His face, like those of all the neighbors I saw, was burnt black. Our house was a skeleton. The roof and posts and beams remained, but all the walls and everything inside except a litter of debris were gone. Even the doorsills had been blown away.

My husband washed his face, took his first-aid kit, and left for the medical station. I followed him to the road, where I saw streams of injured people heading in the same direction. Many of them were bleeding. I had suffered no external injuries, but my mind was so dazed that I cannot recall having a feeling of being spared anything.

When night came, it was pitch dark because there was no electricity. I went into our neighborhood to see what was happening and found people bundling up blankets and other bedding to go to spend the night on the beach. I could not follow them. I lacked the strength to carry bedding that far. Besides, I could not leave my husband, who was caring for the injured at the medical station.

Strapping my child on my back, I walked to the station. On the way, I saw Hiroshima, a sea of flames pouring vast billows of smoke into the night sky. The medical center was an inferno of heat, sickness, and death. The raw flesh of monstrously disfigured human beings gaped from open wounds. My husband was allowing the thirsty to drink, mouthful by mouthful, slowly, from the spout of a brass kettle. His padded, civilian-service uniform was drenched with sweat. He had eaten nothing since morning and was too busy even to talk with me. I went outside and waited all night for him to finish. During that night, countless people died in agony. My husband returned home for a brief while in the morning and then went back to the medical center that day and the next, and the next, and for I do not remember how many more days.

Sometime during this period, we were joined in our skeleton house -- which was adequate shelter, since the weather was hot -- by Dr. and Mrs. Fukuchi. Dr. Fukuchi, who ran a dental clinic, had been evacuated for a time to the country but had returned. His house and offices were completely destroyed in the blast, and the two of them were in need of a place to stay. We made do, though, throughout the several days they were with us, we had hardly anything that could be dignified by the name food.

On August 11, I went to the medical center at Ujina Port to look for my brother-in-law. He had been crushed by the collapsed rear gate of Hiroshima Castle, which housed divisional headquarters during the war and where he had been on guard at the time of the bombing. Bending down to look into the charred, deformed faces of hundreds of soldiers writhing in excruciating pain in the spacious oblong earthen-floored hall of the center, I tried to identify my brother-in-law among the inhabitants of what can only be described as an earthly hell. Finally, I recognized him and, after lengthy, complicated negotiations, took him home. But he was with us only until the morning of August 16, when, with a heart-rending cry, he died. Army headquarters people took his body away and cremated it with many others. We knew the bones they gave us as his remains were anonymous.

Toward the end of 1945, I gave birth to a little girl who lived only a year. For some time, my second son suffered from diarrhea that caused bloody fluxes a dozen times a day. There was no medicine and there were few doctors in Hiroshima then. Giving up hope, one grim day, my husband advised me to prepare myself for the boy's death. I held his emaciated body in my arms. I had no tears.

But miraculously he did not die. Later Dr. Fukuchi gave us some medicine that he had received while in the country. Thanks to this medicine, my son escaped death.

Share |

Back to top

Terms of Use