Blinded by the A-bomb, woman yearns to see daughter’s face

by Uzaemonnaotsuka Tokai, Staff Writer

The atomic bomb has deprived her of light. Showered with shards of glass, she lost her eyesight 64 years ago.

Tomeko Fukuchi, 90, a resident of Nishi Ward in the city of Hiroshima, sharpened her senses of hearing, smell, and touch and raised five children. On August 6, for the first time since the bombing, she stood at a spot in Minami Ward about two kilometers from the hypocenter, the place where her life changed completely. Her second daughter, Mitsue Terada, 63, who was in her womb that day, was standing close beside her. “It’s so frustrating!” Tomeko exclaimed, grabbing her daughter’s arm.

The two were standing in Matsubara-cho, an area crowded with houses and buildings, shortly after 6:20 a.m. “It smells of earth, like that day,” Tomeko said. “Mother, asphalt is now covering the ground,” Mitsue replied. “I smell the earth,” insisted Tomeko, looking up toward the sky.

It was August 6, 1945. When the atomic bomb exploded, it felt as if thousands of needles had pierced her body. Her sight was gone. “I can’t see!” she wailed. “Help me!” But her cries were drowned out by a chorus of groans. Clinging fast to a stranger, she ran for her life.

She was 26 years old at the time. The blast occurred as she was looking up at the sky, after someone walking ahead of her pointed out a B-29. She had been on her way to a friend’s house to seek food for her family of five, including her husband, her mother-in-law, and her first-born son and daughter.

Until December of that year she was hospitalized in the city of Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture. It was difficult to treat her, the doctor said, as splinters of glass and metal had lodged in her eyes.

On her way back to Hiroshima, as Tomeko and her mother were changing trains, her mother murmured, “If we throw ourselves on the tracks, it would be easier for us. Let us die together.” But Tomeko’s baby was due that month. “I can’t kill this child,” she said, shaking her head and crying.

Life became fraught with hardship. She was unable to breastfeed baby Mitsue. She tried to understand Mitsue’s expressions by running her fingers over the baby’s face. While cooking, she burned the front of her hair a number of times. Then, at the age of 30, she began to learn Braille and message techniques at a school for the blind. Two years later, she became a masseuse and worked feverishly at her business.

Her husband, who had devoted himself to her support, passed away 20 years ago. Although Tomeko has accepted the loss of her sight as “God’s will,” there is one wish she cannot surrender: she has never known the faces of the three children she gave birth to after the war, including Mitsue, who was exposed to the bomb’s radiation while in her womb. Today, Tomeko has 14 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.

Tomeko came to Matsubara-cho so she could convey her experience of the bombing from the place she had encountered the blast. Mitsue said, nearly in tears, “When medical science has advanced far enough, I want to give her one of my eyes. I want her to see my face.”

(Originally published on August 7, 2009)