Inertia Overcome

Kuniso Hatanaka

Having been drafted into the army, I was stationed at Kochi at the time of the bombing. My wife and our two children and my elderly mother were still at home in Hiroshima. On the morning of August 6, my wife, three months pregnant, strapped our younger son, who was only a little over one year old, on her back and left home to help a neighborhood association relocate a house in part of an air-raid safety program. Probably because he realized that heavy work was too much for a pregnant woman carrying a small child, the leader of the group asked my wife to guard the workers' lunches. She went into the small nearby shed, where the lunches were. A few seconds passed while the leader gave instructions. Then a blinding flash struck. In the next instant, a pall of blackness fell, obliterating everything. When she could at last make out her surroundings, my wife was appalled. All around was total devastation. Our son was covered with blood; countless glass fragments of all sizes were embedded in the flesh of his head. In a frantic effort to find security, my wife, with our son still strapped to her back, ran to and fro in the western part of the city. Soon black rain fell. She took temporary shelter in a hut in a rice field.

Three days after the bomb blast, my family evacuated to my wife's parents' home in Otake. About a week later, the effects of radiation manifested themselves. All the hair fell from my wife's head. Her entire body broke out in eruptions, her teeth became loose, and bloody pus oozed from her gums. She coughed blood and suffered with bloody stools. She was too weary to carry even the lightest thing the smallest distance. Her breasts no longer gave sufficient milk for our weeping infant, who suffered from radiation-caused diarrhea in addition to his other wounds. On the twenty-third day after the atomic-bomb blast, the small boy died. He is buried in a quiet cemetery in my home village. Though memorial services are held each year in Hiroshima for the victims of the bombing, no one visits my son's grave.

On a hill in our village,
my son sleeps,
While Hiroshima memorials are held again.

As my wife was attempting to recuperate from her radiation-caused illness, the baby in her womb continued to develop. In February 1946, a daughter was born to us. At the time, none of us could tell she was to be forever barely human.

The name the Ministry of Health and Welfare devised for my daughter's condition is "a syndrome caused by early prenatal, short-distance exposure to radiation." She is mentally retarded and microcephalic, with various complications. As the word microcephalic indicates, her head is far smaller than that of a normal child. Her condition was brought on by radiation exposure while she was in an early embryo stage. Ominously, at the time of her birth, the midwife said, "You will have to take special care of this baby."

At birth she weighed 1.9 kilograms. Both of her hip joints were dislocated. While giving the infant her first bath, the midwife noticed that her left leg was bent inward and that no amount of massage and stretching would put it right. As her first, then her second and third years passed without her being able to walk or speak, we gradually abandoned the hope that she was only somewhat retarded and, in 1952 and 1953, consulted a specialist from a team at the Hiroshima University School of Medicine, who diagnosed her condition as microcephaly. Doctors often told parents that such children never live to be twenty. Our daughter is now over thirty but still cannot go to the toilet alone. She has the mentality of an infant of about two years and three months of age.

The atomic bomb brought my wife great suffering and created the tragedy of my microcephalic daughter. It also destroyed all my property, leaving us penniless. I am a barber, but at the time I had no money with which to open a shop and try to make a living. I borrowed a barber's chair and converted an ordinary room into a small shop, where I worked hard. But all our efforts proved futile. We had nothing. My small business failed. We were evicted.

After moving to Nishi Iwakuni, I contrived to open another barber shop. But once again, the shop failed, the landlord forced us to leave the shop, and wholesalers employed professional bill collectors to dun me. I pawned whatever I could, knowing that I would never be able to redeem the articles. There were six of us. In cold weather, we had to decide whether we wanted coal for the stove or rice to eat. We could not afford both. From 1957 to 1961, we struggled along at the lowest possible level.

In 1965, I formed the Mushroom Society, an association of parents of microcephalic children whose condition was caused by the radiation of the Hiroshima bombing. I am once again operating a successful barbershop. My microcephalic daughter, far from being a burden, is indispensable to our happiness. Our fourth and youngest daughter is a great help to me in my work and to all of the family. Each year, when memorial services for the Hiroshima victims of the atomic bomb are held, my mind is filled with a thousand different emotions; but all of them are related to the sincere prayer that the world will one day know lasting peace and freedom from war.

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