Thursday, August 5, 2010


On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a large city in western Japan. I recently read several Japanese accounts of the bombing, and I'd like to share a section from one novel, Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse, which is a fictionalized compilation of bomb victims' diaries. In this section, the main character has just emerged from Yokogawa station, about 1 mile from the epicenter of the blast, minutes after the bomb was dropped:
"I was shocked to find that almost every house adjoining the station had been knocked flat, covering the ground about with an undulating sea of tiles. A few houses away from the station a young woman of marriageable age, the upper half of her body emerging from the rubble, was throwing tiles as rapidly as she could lay hands on them and screaming in a shrill voice. She probably thought she was crying 'Help,' but the sound that emerged was no intelligible human speech...

In the grounds of the Yokogawa Shrine... nothing remained of the main sanctuary save a number of naked uprights. The worship hall in front of it had vanished, leaving only its clay foundation, a bare and ugly hump.

The people in the street by the shrine ground were all covered over their heads and shoulders with something resembling dust or ash. There was not one of them who was not bleeding. They bled from the head, from the face, from the hands; those who were naked bled from the chest, from the back, from the thighs, from any place from which it was possible to bleed. One woman, her cheeks so swollen that they drooped on either side in heavy pouches, walked with her arms stretched out before her, hands drooping forlornly, like a ghost. A man without a stitch of clothing on came jogging along the road with his body bent forward and his hands between his legs, for all the world like someone about to enter the communal tub at a public bathhouse. There was a woman in her slip who ran wearily along the road groaning as she went. Another carrying a baby in her arms, crying, 'Water! Water!' and constantly wiping at the baby's eyes between her cries. Its eyes were clogged with some substance like ash... A man plumped down by the side of the road with his arms thrust skywards, waving them frantically. An elderly woman sitting earnestly praying with her eyes closed, her hands pressed together in supplication, beside a pile of tiles that had slid off the roof. A half-naked man who came along at a trot, cannoned into her and ran on cursing her foully. A man in white trousers who crept along a little at a time on all fours, weeping noisily to himself as he went...

All these I saw in less than two hundred yards as I walked from Yokogawa Station along the highway."
If you have a chance, I highly recommend Black Rain as a powerful, beautifully detailed, insightful account of wartime Japan and of the lasting effects of the bomb on postwar Japanese society.