Survivors' Stories

Kazuko Kawada, 82, Minami Ward, Hiroshima

Overwhelming devastation numbed emotions

Sense of loss, sadness grows stronger year after year

At the time of the atomic bombing, Kazuko Kawada (maiden name, Watanabe), 82, was 13, assumed to be a sensitive time in a young person’s life. But she felt numb when she saw A-bomb victims who no longer resembled human beings; when she was finally reunited with her mother Yone, then 51; and when she was searching for her missing father Waso. She felt no feelings of horror or sadness or happiness. When the dead were cremated, many of the corpses made a hissing sound when the abdomen erupted and orange-colored intestines began to flow out. But Ms. Kawada gazed at this sight in silence, without emotion. “It may have been because the event was so shocking,” she said while recounting her experience.

Ms. Kawada was a second-year student at First Hiroshima Prefectural Girls’ High School (now, Minami High School). She was working as a mobilized student at a factory producing airplane parts in the Takasu area (part of present-day Nishi Ward), about 2.5 kilometers from the hypocenter. In the deteriorating conditions of the war, mobilized students did not have much to do at the factory. Because that morning’s air raid warning was lifted, she was getting ready to go to the beach with classmates.

When she heard the sound of an airplane, she looked out a window facing east and saw the white plume from a B-29 bomber in the sky. The moment she moved away from the window, she saw an orange flash and hid under a desk. Avoiding serious injury in the blast, she took refuge on a hill with other students.

She wanted to return home to Ote-machi (part of Naka Ward), 500 meters from the hypocenter. But her teacher said that the city center was a sea of fire and she couldn’t go. In the evening, she walked to her father’s friend’s house, where she had evacuated to earlier, located in the village of Jigozen (now Hatsukaichi) to the west of Hiroshima.

The skin of some survivors, heading on foot to safer locations, was peeling away from their bodies and their lips were protruding out. They didn’t look like human beings. “If I saw that sight now, I’d be so terrified that I couldn’t stand up,” Ms. Kawada said. “But I wasn’t scared at all.”

At the house in Jigozen, she was reunited with her mother, who was there to get their belongings. Though she had finally managed to meet her mother, “I don’t remember feeling particularly happy to see her or feeling that I was now saved.”

The next day she went with her mother and some others to the city center and dug through the remains of their home, which had burned to the ground. But they were unable to find her father or her uncle. They also found no clues as to what had become of her aunt, who was visiting her daughter’s home in Minami-Kanon-machi (now Nishi Ward). They searched through the city for their relatives for a week but could not locate any of them.

More than a month later, remains that seemed to be those of her father and uncle were discovered. On September 17, after the powerful Makurazaki Typhoon struck the area, the bones of two people were found where the front door of their house had once been. “Whoever these bones belonged to, they’re here,” Ms. Kawada thought, and took the bones away to be buried.

In late September, Ms. Kawada started to suffer internal bleeding from her throat and her intestines. Her hair fell out, too. But no medicine was available. Her mother prepared an infusion of dokudami herb every day. After three months or so, she began to get better. And the following year she was able to return to school. “It was thanks to the herb. Whenever I see those white dokudami flowers, I feel life,” Ms. Kawada said and smiled.

It was much later that she started to feel the weight of loss and sadness from losing the members of her family. Year after year, the feelings have grown deeper, and she is unable to bring herself to visit Peace Memorial Park on August 6. “It’s too painful to hear the siren, signaling that moment of silence when the bomb exploded,” she explained.

She married Hiroo Kawada, now 86, in 1957. After her two children became independent, she started doing volunteer work in her fifties, assisting those with mental disabilities. As part of her volunteer activities, she paid a visit to the United States. “Hating the U.S. won’t lead anywhere,” she said. “Valuing people’s lives is my work to promote peace. Let’s put hatred behind us and have more exchange among the people of the world.” (Yuji Yamamoto, Staff Writer)

Teenagers’ Impressions

Taking action is important
Ms. Kawada looked happy when she was talking about her volunteer work, helping people who are mentally disabled get involved in social activities. She said, “I don’t want the atomic bombing to be just a sad event. There’s still so much I want to do.” I want to learn from her spirit and take action. It’s important for our generation to be proactive in the future. (Maiko Hanaoka, 15)

Beyond hatred lies peace
I was impressed by Ms. Kawada’s words: “People’s feelings and wishes are the same, even if they belong to different nations. The only difference is that people speak different languages.” She said that she feels some bitterness toward the United States, but has also found forgiveness, otherwise she would be unable to move forward. As I listened to her, I realized that peace lies beyond hatred. I will value the bonds between people and live a life where no one hates or is hated. (Kana Fukushima, 15)

Horrific event numbed her emotions
The atomic bombing had such a tremendous impact on Ms. Kawada that she was unable to feel anything about what was happening right before her eyes in the aftermath of the bombing or when facing her father’s death. It was sometime after the war that she suffered the huge sorrow of losing her father. I felt strongly that I have to convey the cruelty of the atomic bombing, which deprived her not only of her family members, but also her feelings. (Kantaro Matsuo, 15)

Staff Writer’s Notebook

When Ms. Kawada returned to her home in downtown Hiroshima the day after the atomic bombing, a man approached her. His skin was burned and drooping off his body. She couldn’t recognize him at first, but after speaking with him she realized that the man was Mr. Nishioka, who owned a bicycle shop in her neighborhood.

But Ms. Kawada, who was 13 at the time, couldn’t do anything to help him and didn’t feel a duty to try. She just watched him walk away. Recalling this time, she grew teary-eyed and said, “I really regret not saying some kind words to him.”

The impact of the devastation must have been overwhelming, beyond all imagination, to numb her emotions to this extent. And year by year, her sense of loss and sorrow have grown deeper and deeper. It is because of her experiences that she now firmly says, “Valuing human life is my work to promote peace.” As I ponder the profound meaning of her words, I feel that the fateful day she experienced is not a thing of the past. (Yuji Yamamoto)

(Originally published on May 12, 2014)