Daughter visits the former relief station where her father devoted his life to saving A-bomb survivors

by Masayoshi Ishikawa, Staff Writer

After the atomic bombing, a doctor toiled endlessly to treat the injured in Fukuya Department Store in downtown Hiroshima, which had become a relief station. On September 3, 1945, less than a month after the atomic bombing, Dr. Kanichi Yoshida died at 51 of symptoms associated with A-bomb disease. Searching for a memory of the father who collapsed after battling the unknown maladies caused by radiation exposure, Naoko Murakami, now 81 years old, visited Fukuya Department Store on August 6, an A-bombed building that still stands.

Fukuya, located 700 meters from the hypocenter, is situated in the heart of Hiroshima’s shopping and entertainment district. Right after the war ended, on August 17, the city made part of the store the Temporary Contagious Disease Hospital. Chosen as director was Ms. Murakami’s father, who was president of the Hiroshima City Medical Association. “I doubt that anyone around here knows that this was once a hospital.” Naoko spoke outside the store, as shoppers hurried back and forth.

Immediately after the atomic bombing, acute symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea experienced by many A-bomb survivors were first thought to be caused by dysentery. Though exposed at home in the city center with his 53-year-old wife, Tsuma, Dr. Yoshida immediately set about treating the injured and advised Hiroshima officials to open a new hospital.

Naoko remembers, “His arms broke out with reddish-brown spots.” Naoko herself experienced the bombing while heading to work near Hiroshima Station and later suffered a high fever and diarrhea.

The menace of radiation then advanced on Naoko’s family. “My chest hurts,” her father said. “I have to take a little time off.” At the end of August, he stopped treating patients at Fukuya. Meanwhile, Naoko’s mother became bedridden and her health quickly failed. Leaving behind the words, “I want to live,” she died on September 1. Naoko’s father passed away two days later, as if to follow her mother.

In 1946, Naoko married and moved away when her husband’s employer transferred him to another city. When her husband retired in 1979 and the couple returned home to Hiroshima, Naoko was amazed by the transformation Fukuya had undergone. When she turned 70, she began writing down what she knew about her father, before time buried his life further.

The second and third floors where the temporary hospital operated are now ladies apparel floors. “My father continued to treat the patients in this burnt shell of a building, even after he knew his strength was giving out. In this space I feel tranquil, as if my father is calling me here.” Naoko placed her palms together in prayer, holding a Buddhist rosary between them.

(Originally published on August 7, 2008)