Survivors' Stories

Yoshie Tsushima, 85, Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima

Handing down her A-bomb experience, despite worries over radiation effects

by Hiroyuki Taniguchi, Staff Writer

“The people in my family were injured, but they all survived. That was fortunate, at least.” Yoshie Tsushima (née Iwaka), 85, held back her pain as she shared her memories.

When Hiroshima was attacked with an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, Ms. Tsushima was 14 years old and a first-year student at Hiroshima Second Municipal Girls’ High School (now Funairi High School). She had been mobilized to work for the war effort and was normally helping to produce molds for hand grenades at a factory near Kaitaichi Station (now Kaita-cho in Hiroshima Prefecture). August 6, though, was a school day. She left her home in the Onaga district (now part of Higashi Ward) and began walking to the school in Midori-machi (now part of Minami Ward) with Kyoko Nishiguchi, a second-year student who lived in her neighborhood.

Just before reaching the Atago railroad crossing (now part of Minami Ward) on the Sanyo line, they were suddenly hit by powerful, fiery winds from the front. Ms. Tsushima felt as if embers from a fire had been thrown at her. Because of the searing heat, she was unable to breathe or open her eyes. She wasn’t aware of the bomb’s flash or boom.

Ms. Tsushima fell unconscious and when she came to, it was dark all around her. Her surroundings then gradually grew lighter, and Atago Shrine (now part of Higashi Ward, about 2.5 kilometers from the hypocenter), which she must have passed, appeared close by. She had been blown through the air about 20 meters.

She searched for Ms. Nishiguchi, calling out her name again and again, but there was no reply. Her friend had disappeared. There was nothing she could do, so she headed for home alone. To this day, Ms. Nishiguchi’s fate is unknown. Ms. Tsushima still feels remorse, saying, “I should have gone back and searched for her a little more.”

There were six people in her family: her grandparents, her father, her aunt, her sister, and Ms. Tsushima herself. Her father, a horse trainer for the military, experienced the atomic bombing at the former Army Clothing Depot (now part of Minami Ward) and suffered burns to his neck. The other four family members were at home and were slightly injured or escaped injury.

When she returned home, her aunt welcomed her with relief and said that her hair was singed and frizzy. At that point, Ms. Tsushima became aware of the painful burns she had suffered to her face, arms, and feet. Worried that there would be another air raid, the six members of the family, including her father who had also returned home, fled through Ochigo Pass and into the mountain.

The sights along the way were like hell itself. The hair and clothing of some survivors were scorched and they were covered in blood. The burnt skin of other survivors was peeling away from their bodies and drooping down in strips. All of them were barefoot. They went on tottering down the road, filling its width. Ms. Tsushima became part of this procession. Some were pleading for water while others collapsed along the way. “I was so sorry, but I couldn’t care about other people at the time,” she said.

While fleeing to the mountain, they were exposed to the black rain that fell in the aftermath of the blast. They took shelter under a pine tree and Ms. Tsushima heard a man from her neighborhood say, “Our houses have caught on fire. We won’t be able to go back.” She could not absorb all that had happened, and had no idea what would become of them.

Her burns began to blister, and her face became so swollen that she was unable to open her eyes. Her arms and legs also grew swollen and ached so much that, for a while, she could not move around by herself. For about a month, Ms. Tsushima stayed with different acquaintances, until her father built a shack where their home had stood.

After the war, Ms. Tsushima graduated from Hiroshima Second Municipal Girls’ High School and got married. Her husband has passed away, but she now lives near her two daughters and has four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

For around 20 years she has been suffering from arrhythmia and anemia. She worries that the A-bomb radiation is concealed somewhere in her body and could still cause her harm. She tries to keep smiling each day, though, to keep the worry at bay. She also takes part in sessions of “fashion therapy,” appearing on stage in gorgeous dresses.

With this year marking the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing, Ms. Tsushima felt her advancing age and recognized the importance of sharing her A-bomb account, despite the bitter memories this brings. She has also told her story at a gathering in her neighborhood. “War and nuclear weapons must never be condoned,” she said, intent on conveying this message as long as she’s able.

Teenagers’ Impressions

Her positive attitude showed her strength

Ms. Tsushima suffered bad burns to her face and other parts of her body after she was blown off her feet by the blast. While this was a terrible hardship, she said she felt fortunate to be treated with grated potatoes, which brought her fever down, since potatoes were a precious source of food at that time. Now she enjoys appearing on stage in sessions of “fashion therapy.” When I heard her speak about her experience in such a straightforward way, she seemed so strong to me. (Yui Morimoto, 11)

Want to share her story with family and friends

She never knows when or how the effects of the A-bomb radiation in her body will appear. I was so moved to hear that this has been a constant source of worry to her for the past 70 years, and it will continue to make her anxious. A tragedy like this must never be repeated. I plan to share her story with my family and friends. (Hiroyuki Hanaoka, 14)

Work to create a world without war

Ms. Tsushima said that she hates standing in lines and camping. This is because it brings back memories of standing in line to receive medical treatment in the aftermath of the atomic bombing when there weren’t enough doctors for all the people who were wounded, and camping reminds her of laying on the ground in a shack. For 70 years she has suffered from this trauma. War brings suffering to innocent people. We should work to create a world where war won’t be waged again. (Nanoka Masuda, 13)

(Originally published on November 30, 2015)