Survivors' Stories

Kogiku Inou, 83, Aki Ward, Hiroshima

Thoughts grow for the mother she lost

Took care of younger sisters, with no time to grieve

Kogiku Inou (nee Nakajima), 83, a resident of Aki Ward, Hiroshima, still thinks of her mother, Koima, who was 38 at the time of the atomic bombing. Koima died before Ms. Inou could find her. “It might sound a little strange, but I now miss my mother even more than I once did,” she said. “I wish she had lived in a time of peace, like today.”

On the day of the atomic bombing, August 6, 1945, Ms. Inou was at home alone. Their house was in Danbara-shinmachi (part of present-day Minami Ward), about 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter. She was 15 years old, a third-year student at Hiroshima First Municipal Girls’ School (today’s Funairi High School). Though she had been mobilized to work at the Nishikaniya factory of Japan Steel Works (in Minami Ward), that day the factory was closed due to a lack of electricity.

She was inside the house, hanging up the laundry, when there was a powerful flash, followed by a huge boom. The dust-filled blast hit her, and the roof fell in. Fortunately, she escaped serious injury.

Her mother, along with her grandmother, had been mobilized as members of a volunteer corps and were sent to work in the vicinity of present-day Peace Memorial Park in Naka Ward. “I was worried about them, but I had no way of knowing that the atomic bomb had actually exploded near there,” she said. When her mother and grandmother didn’t return after evening fell, Ms. Inou decided to walk to a relative’s house in Hesaka (now part of Higashi Ward).

However, that decision, which she came to regret, resulted in missing her mother twice.

Four days after the bombing, she went to the burnt city center with her uncle. When she returned to her home, a neighbor told her that her mother, who had suffered serious burns, had come back the day after the A-bomb attack. Ms. Inou rued the fact that she had headed to Hesaka the night before.

She scoured the schools nearby, where the injured were housed, but was unable to find her mother. Then, three months later, she received a notice from the police about her mother’s ashes. The whole picture of her mother’s ordeal was unclear, but she learned that Koima had arrived at Aosaki National School (today’s Aosaki Elementary School in Minami Ward) and passed away after saying her daughter’s name, Kogiku.

Aosaki National School was one of the schools Ms. Inou had searched. She may have missed her mother there. “I’m a bad daughter,” she said. “Even now, whenever the bus passes by Asosaki Elementary School, I put my hands together and I pray for her.”

After the war, she was too busy to properly grieve. In the fall of 1946, her father, who had been a soldier stationed in Taiwan, finally returned home. Until then, in place of her parents, she cared for her two younger sisters, 12 and 8, who had both been evacuated from the city before the bombing.

Each morning she would rise at 5 a.m. and prepare lunch boxes for her younger sisters. She spoke with her sisters’ teachers. She also brought home money to keep the family afloat and repair the damaged house. For a long while, she was unable to attend school herself. “Junior high school and high school students today probably can’t imagine such a life,” she said. “I had no happiness at all.” When her father appeared in front of the house, after not knowing whether he was alive or dead, she just clung to him and sobbed. At that moment she returned to being a “child” again.

Before her mother’s death, she had taught her daughter: “Do what you can do by yourself” and “Even if you end up alone, you have to go on.” Looking back at that time, Ms. Inou said, “My mother taught me how to cook. That gave me strength to survive after the atomic bombing.” After she graduated from school, she began working at a bank, and was employed there until she retired.

She has twice developed breast cancer and keenly felt the horror of radiation caused by the atomic bombing. She now lives alone, after her husband’s death eight years ago. Still, the people around her praise her cheerful demeanor. She hopes young people today will be strong, and, with her own past in mind, she offered encouragement by saying, “Even when things look bleak, never give up.”

Her passion for a form of short poetry called senryu gives her something to live for. One poem goes: “I want to show my mother, who perished in the atomic bombing, this city of buildings.” She made this poem with the wish that she could walk with her through the reconstructed city. In each of her poems is imbued the love she feels for her mother. (Eriko Shintani, Staff Writer)

Teenagers’ Impressions

The importance of a peaceful world
I was surprised when Ms. Inou told us that she did a lot of housework, like making lunches for her younger sisters to take to school. These are things that I, as a second-year student in junior high, wouldn’t be able to do. Our interview with her made me realize how important it is to make a peaceful world where no one experiences what Ms. Inou had to face as a result of the atomic bombing. I’ll never forget her words of encouragement, telling us to “Live strongly.” (Midori Nakagawa)

I want to be positive, appreciate meeting new people
Ms. Inou said that when she was busy taking care of her younger sisters, in place of her mother, she had no enjoyment in her life. However, now she likes to write poetry, she has good friends from her class reunions, and she enjoys her life. I had a hard time, too, when I moved to a new school and had to leave behind all my close friends, but I want to live with a positive attitude and appreciate the fact that I can meet new people. (Chiaki Yamada)

I want to hear what A-bomb survivors felt that day
In the aftermath of the atomic bombing, Ms. Inou walked through scores of bodies on the ground. Still, she thought only of her family’s safety. I’m the same age as Ms. Inoue was at the time, and I can’t imagine not feeling afraid in such conditions. I want to hear more stories from the A-bomb survivors to understand what they felt that day. (Takeshi Iwata, 15)

Staff Writer’s Notebook

Ms. Inou’s mother, Koima, always put on a brave face, and Ms. Inou saw her shed tears only once, after she sent her two youngest daughters off to an evacuation site prior to the A-bombing. Koima said, “War is an evil thing, forcing families to separate like this.” Because her mother’s words made a strong impression on Ms. Inou, she brought her younger sisters back home after the war and they lived together, despite the hardships.

I get a lump in my throat when I think of Ms. Inou’s feelings as a 15-year-old girl, burdened with the task of keeping her family afloat. It was only natural that she would feel bitterness toward the United States, as the nation that dropped the atomic bomb, and sometimes she lost hope to go on living. Today, however, Ms. Inou is a cheerful woman and shows no signs of her past distress.

“Hating each other produces nothing positive. We have to think how we can change the world for the better, hand in hand.” This is Ms. Inou’s hope for all the young people who will create the future of our world. (Eriko Shintani)

(Originally published on April 28, 2014)