Tsutomu Yamaguchi (March 16, 1916 – January 4
“It will go down as one of the most inspiring survival stories ever to emerge from a horrific war. Tsutomu Yamaguchi was in his twenties when he found himself in Hiroshima on the morning of 6 August 1945, as a single B-29 US bomber droned overhead. The “Little Boy” bomb that it dropped from its payload would kill or injure 160,000 people by the day’s end.
Among them was the young engineer – who was in town on a business trip for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – who stepped off a tram as the bomb exploded.
Despite being 3km (just under two miles) from Ground Zero, the blast temporarily blinded him, destroyed his left eardrum and inflicted horrific burns over much of the top half of his body. The following morning, he braved another dose of radiation as he ventured into Hiroshima city centre, determined to catch a train home, away from the nightmare.
But home for Mr Yamaguchi was Nagasaki, where two days later the “Fat Man” bomb was dropped, killing 70,000 people and creating a city where, in the words of its mayor, “not even the sound of insects could be heard”. In a bitter twist of fate, Yamaguchi was again 3km from the centre of the second explosion. In fact, he was in the office explaining to his boss how he had almost been killed days before, when suddenly the same white light filled the room. “I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” Mr Yamaguchi said.
His is a truly remarkable story, all the more so because, for years, its protagonist was determined to play it down. But now, at the age of 93 and dying from cancer – probably caused by the atomic bombs that almost killed him, twice – Mr Yamaguchi has finally been awarded the recognition his life deserves. This week, the Nagasaki and Hiroshima governments recorded Mr Yamaguchi as a double- hibakusha, acknowledging that he was exposed to both blasts that incinerated the cities in 1945. “As far as we know, it is the first time that a dual exposure to atomic bombings has been entered into an A-bomb survivor’s ID,” officials said.
Living out his final days in the rebuilt Nagasaki, where he resides with his daughter, Toshiko, the old man is happy his tale is reaching people around the world. “After I die, I want the next generation of hibakusha and the children after that to know what happened to us,” he told The Independent in a telephone interview.
Like many of the roughly 260,000 survivors of the atomic explosions, Mr Yamaguchi suffered agony for much of his life, as his daughter explains. “Until I was about 12, he was wrapped in bandages for his skin wounds, and he went completely bald,” says Toshiko, now 60. “My mother was also soaked in black rain [the famously radioactive rain that fell after both bombings] and was poisoned. We think she passed on that poison to us.”
Yamaguchi’s children, like many second-generation hibakusha, have also been plagued by health problems. His son, Katsutoshi, died of cancer in 2005 aged 59. His daughter Naoko has, in Toshiko’s words, been “sickly” all her life. His wife died last year, aged 88, of kidney and liver cancer after a lifetime of illness. “I suffer too from a terribly low white blood cell count, so I worry about what will happen to me,” Toshiko adds.
But his children’s illnesses aside, Mr Yamaguchi seemed determined to live his life as normally as possible. After recovering from his burns and radiation sickness, he returned to work as a ship engineer in the local port, and rarely discussed what happened to him. “Afterwards he was fine – we hardly noticed he was a survivor,” recalls Toshiko. Her father raised his family and declined to play any part in the anti-bomb activities that fill the lives of some survivors because “he was so healthy, he thought it would have been unfair to people who were really sick”.
Mr Yamaguchi must have watched the world outside his city with alarm. Six decades after his horrific experiences, the US alone has 8,000 active or operational warheads, each carrying on average about 20 times the destructive power of Hiroshima. The once-select nuclear club of America, Russia, China, France and Britain has been swelled by new recruits Israel, Pakistan, India and probably North Korea. Even conservative Japanese politicians hint that they might one day need the bomb.
“I can’t understand why the world cannot understand the agony of the nuclear bombs,” he says, speaking through his daughter. “How can they keep developing these weapons?” The Independent 25 March 2009
“Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, the world is entering a new nuclear age. Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear-weapons powers (America, Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry…In 1960 Albert Wohlstetter, an American nuclear strategist, wrote that, “We must contemplate some extremely unpleasant possibilities, just because we want to avoid them.” So too today, the essential first step in confronting the growing nuclear threat is to stare it full in the face” ~ The Economist, March 7, 2015
“Despite what the nuclear industry tells us, building enough nuclear power stations to make a meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would cost trillions of dollars, create tens of thousands of tons of lethal high-level radioactive waste, contribute to further proliferation of nuclear weapons materials, and result in a Chernobyl-scale accident once every decade. Perhaps most significantly, it will squander the resources necessary to implement meaningful climate change solutions” ~ Greenpeace
The Yamaguchi tartan transforms the nuclear hazard sign into a radiant symbol of hope for a nuclear-free future. Its inspiration was the peace memorial ceremonies held every August in Japan and around the world, when lanterns bearing messages of peace are floated to commemorate those who perished in the atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed 150,000 people. This tartan is named in honour of the late Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only officially recognised survivor of both atom bomb attacks and an outspoken critic of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. “There should not be nuclear energy in the world”, he warned in advance of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. “You will never be able to prevent accidents. With nuclear energy, human beings are nearing the end of their own extinction”. Permission to adopt the Yamaguchi name was graciously granted by his daughter, Toshiko Yamasaki, with assistance from Hidetaka Inazuka, producer of the documentary film “Twice Bombed: A Legacy of Yamaguchi Tsutomu”.
Scottish Tartan Register No. 10622; UK Patent Office No. 402209
Lantern ceremony. Photo: flogently https://www.flickr.com/photos/flogently/
some alternate colours