Tsunehiro Tomoda from Osaka, who became an A-bomb orphan at age of 9, tries to find his grandmother’s grave in Hiroshima again to show his appreciation to her, after telling of his bombing experience at his old school

by Rina Yuasa, Staff Writer

Tsunehiro Tomoda, 86, a resident of Kadoma, Osaka Prefecture, has been looking for the grave of his grandmother Tora Nishida in Hiroshima. Mr. Tomoda became an A-bomb orphan when he experienced the atomic bombing at Fukuromachi National School (now Fukuromachi Elementary School in Naka Ward, Hiroshima), and then went and stayed on the Korean Peninsula for a while. He said, “I want to show my appreciation to my grandmother who helped me return to Japan.” In late November, the Chugoku Shimbun accompanied him on his third tour around the city in search of her grave.

“It was supposed to be somewhere on the edge of the bridge crossing the river,” said Mr. Tomoda. He traced his memory by looking outside from the car which his friend drove. He has visited many graves and temples with supporters including Tatsuya Tokumaru, 70, resident of Saeki Ward in Hiroshima. In fact, he had been to her grave more than 10 years ago, but lost its whereabouts due to death of a relative who had known the grave’s location. Mr. Tomoda isn’t familiar with the geography of Hiroshima because he has been away from the city for many years. Also, he doesn’t know much about the names of the local places in Hiroshima.

To Mr. Tomoda, his grandmother was one of his few relatives and a special person.

In 1945, he was a fourth-grade student at Fukuromachi National School. His father had died of an illness, so he lived as a family of three, his mother, younger brother, and him. On that day, after he left home in Otemachi (now part of Naka Ward) and arrived at school, he experienced the atomic bombing from within the school’s underground space, just 460 meters from the hypocenter. His younger brother, who was then a second-grade student at his school, was charred in the schoolyard. He couldn’t find his mother again.

He stayed alone in the ruins. Several days later, he could meet his acquaintance from Korean Peninsula again. Soon he crossed the sea with that man. However, in a foreign land just liberated from Japan’s rule, he was treated very badly by the man’s family. He then fled and began to live on the streets at age of thirteen. In 1950, when the Korean War broke out, his life was put in danger many times in urban areas which turned into a battlefield during the war.

He wanted to return to Japan, but had forgotten Japanese and had no ID. With support from a person who could read and write Japanese, he sent letters to Hiroshima City again and again, by writing “My grandmother Tora Nishida lives in Yaga-machi (now part of Higashi Ward).” He wrote in an act of desperation. In 1960, his wish finally came true. According to a Chugoku Shimbun’s article from that time, Ms. Nishida, then 83, showed her happiness by saying, “It was like a star has fallen from the sky,” after she got the news of his letter from the city government.

When he was 24 years old, he set foot on his native soil in Hiroshima for the first time in 15 years. He stayed at Ms. Nishida’s home for a week and received her support for living expenses, too. However, he wasn’t able to adapt to life in his hometown, which he had desperately wished for, partly due to the language barrier. Seeking a more comfortable place, he went to Osaka relying on connection with the community of people from the Korean Peninsula. Ms. Nishida passed away in 1963.

Mr. Tomoda looked back on that time and said, “I had a mysterious dream.” His grandmother told him to return back to her in the dream. When he returned to Hiroshima in a hurry, her funeral already ended. He couldn’t be in time for it. He still cannot forget that remorse.

He began to search for her grave from fall of last year. When Fukuromachi Elementary School, his alma mater, asked him to share his story of the atomic bombing with its students, he was overwhelmed by his love for grandmother again. Having a connection with his hometown gave him a supportive push. In March this year, he received a special graduation certificate at Fukuromachi Elementary School. He has still continued to be in touch with Tadakatsu Fukuda, 56, the school’s principal who passed him the certificate at that time. He said, “To me, Mr. Fukuda is my principal at school.”

Eighty-one years has passed since the Pacific War broke out on December 8. But Mr. Tomoda still continues to live a life that has been tossed by the war and the atomic bombing. Though he suffers from illness, he says he won’t give up finding her grave as long as he can move physically. If he can find it, what he wants to tell her at the grave is, “Grandma, I’m sorry for not having been able to be back to you for a long time.”

(Originally published on December 5, 2022)