By John Hersey at exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning

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Hiroshima Excerpt

By John Hersey

AT exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning,

on August 6th, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment

when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima,

Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel depart-

ment at the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at

her place in the plant office and was turning her head

to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same

moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down

cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of

his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven

deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo

Nakamura, a tailor's widow, stood by the window

of her kitchen watching a neighbpur tearing down his

house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defence

fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German

priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear

on a cot on the top floor of his order's three-storey

mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der

Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the

surgical staff of the city's large, modern Red Cross

Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors

with a blood specimen for a Wassennann test in his

hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tammoto,

pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at

the door of a rich man's house in Koi, the city's western

suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of

things he* had evacuated from town in fear of the

massive B29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima

to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed

by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the

survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so

many others died. Each of them counts many small

items of chance or volition -a step taken in time, a

decision to go indoors, catching one street-car instead

of the next that spared him. And now each knows

that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw

more death than he ever thought he would see. At the

time none of them knew anything.

The Reverend Mr. Tanimoto got up at five o'clock

that morning. He was alone in the parsonage, because

for some time his wife had been commuting with their

year-old baby to spend nights with a friend in Ushida,

a suburb to the north. Of all the important cities of

Japan, only two, Kyoto and Hiroshima, had not been

visited in strength by B-san, or Mr. B, as the Japanese

with a mixture of respect and unhappy familiarity,

called the B-29 ; and Mr. Tanimoto, like all his neigh-

bours and friends, was almost sick with anxiety. He

had heard uncomfortably detailed accounts of mass

raids on Kure, Iwakuni, Tokuyama, and other nearby

towns; he was sure Hiroshima's turn would come

soon. He had slept badly the night before, because

there had been several air-raid warnings. Hiroshima

had been getting such warnings almost every night for

weeks, for at that time the B-29s were using Lake Biwa,

north-east of Hiroshima, as a rendezvous point, and no

matter what city the Americans planned to hit, the

Super-fortresses streamed in over the coast near

Hiroshima. The frequency of the 'warnings and the

continued abstinence of Mr. B with respect to Hiro-

shima had made its citizens jittery ; a rumour was going

around that the Americans were saving something

special for the city.
Mr. Tanimoto is a small man, quick to talk, laugh,

and cry. He wears his black hair parted in the middle

and rather long ; the prominence of the frontal bones

just above his eyebrows and the smallness of his

moustache, mouth, and chin give him a strange, old-

young look, boyish and yet wise, weak and yet fiery.

He moves nervously and fast, but with a restraint which

suggests that he is a cautious, thoughtful man. He

showed, indeed, just those qualities in the uneasy days

before the bomb fell. Besides having his wife spend

the nights in Ushida, Mr. Tanimoto had been carrying

all the portable things from his church, in the close-

packed residential district called Nagaragawa, to a

house that belonged to a rayon manufacturer in Koi,

two miles from the centre of town. The rayon man,

a Mr. Matsui, had opened his then unoccupied estate

to a large number of his friends and acquaintances,

so that they might evacuate whatever they wished

to a safe distance from the probable target area. Mr.

Tanimoto had no difficulty in moving chairs, hymnals,

Bibles, altar gear, and church records by pushcart

himself, but the organ console and an upright piano

required some aid. A friend of his named Matsuo

had, the day before, helped him get the piano out to

Koi; in return, he had promised this day to assist

Mr. Matsuo in hauling out a daughter's belongings.

That is why he had risen so early.
Mr. Tanimoto cooked his own breakfast. He felt

awfully tired. The effort of moving the piano the day

before, a sleepless night, weeks of worry and unbalanced

diet, the cares of his parish all combined to make him

feel hardly adequate to the new day's work. There

was another thing, too: Mr. Tanimoto had studied

theology at Emory College, in Atlanta, Georgia; he

had graduated in 1940; he spoke excellent English;

he dressed in American clothes ; he had corresponded

with many American friends right up to the time

the 'war began ; and among a people obsessed with a

fear of being spied upon perhaps almost obsessed

himselfhe found himself growing increasingly uneasy.

The police had questioned him several times, and

just a few days before, he had heard that an influential

acquaintance, a Mr. Tanaka, a retired officer of the

Toyo Kisen Kaisha steamship line, an anti-Christian,

a man famous in Hiroshima for his showy philan-

thropies and notorious for his personal tyrannies, had

been telling people that Tanimoto should not be

trusjted. In compensation, to show himself publicly

a good Japanese, Mr. Tanimoto had taken on the

chairmanship of his local tonarigumi, or Neighbourhood

Association, and to his other duties and concerns

this position had added the business of organising

air-raid defence for about twenty families.

Before six o'clock that morning, Mr. Tanimoto

started for Mr. Matsuo's house. There he found that

their burden was to be a tansu, a large Japanese cabinet,

full of clothing and household goods. The two mei^

set out, The morning was perfectly clear and so warm

that the day promised to be uncomfortable. A few

minutes after they started, the air raid siren went off *

a minute-long blast that warned of approaching planes

but indicated to the people of Hiroshima only a slight

degree of danger, * since it sounded every morning at

this time, when an American weather plane came over.

The two men pulled and pushed the handcart through

the city streets. Hiroshima was a fan-shaped city,

lying mostly on the six islands formed by the seven

estuarial rivers that branch out from the Ota River;

its main commercial and residential districts, covering

about four square miles in the centre of the city,

contained three-quarters of its population, which had

been reduced by several evacuation programmes from a

wartime peak of 380,000 to about 245,000. Factories

and other residential districts, or suburbs, lay compactly

around the edges of the city. To the south were the

docks, an airport, and an island-studded Inland Sea.

A rim of mountains runs around the other three sides

of the delta. Mr. Tanimoto and Mr. Matsuo took

their way through the shopping centre, already full of

people, and across two of the rivers to the sloping

streets of Koi, and up them to the outskirts and foot-

hills. As they started up a valley away from the tight-

ranked houses, the all-clear sounded. (The Japanese

radar operators, detecting only three planes, supposed

that they comprised a reconnaissance.) Pushing the

handcart up to the raydn man's house* was tiring,

and the men, after they had manoeuvred their load

into the driveway and to the front steps, paused to

rest awhile. They stood with a wing of the house

between them and the city. Like most homes in this

part of Japan, the house consisted of a wooden frame

and wooden walls supporting a heavy tile roof. Its

front hall, packed with rolls of bedding and clothing,

looked like a cool cave full of fat cushions. Opposite

the house, to the right of the front door, there was a

large, finicky rock garden. There was no sound of

planes. The morning was still; the place was cool

and pleasant.
Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky.

Mr. Tanimoto has a distinct recollection that it travelled

from east to west, from the city toward the hills. It

seemed a sheet of sun. Both he and Mr. Matsuo

reacted in terror and both had time to react (for they *

were 3,500 yards, or two miles, from the centre of the

explosion). Mr. Matsuo dashed up the front steps

into the house and dived among the bedrolls and

buried himself there. Mr. Tanimoto took four or

five steps and threw himself between two big rocks in

the garden. He bellied up very hard against one of

them. As his face was against the stone he did not

see what happened. He felt a sudden pressure, and

then splinters and pieces of board and fragments of

tile fell on him. He heard no roar. (Almost no one

in Hiroshima recalls hearing any noise of the bomb.

But a fisherman in his sampan on the Inland Sea near

Tsuzu, the man with whom Mr. Tanimoto's mother-in-

law and sister-in-law were living, saw the flash and

heard a tremendous explosion; he was nearly twenty

miles from Hiroshima, but the thunder was greater

than when the B-29s hit Iwakuni, only five miles away,)

When he dared, Mr. Tanimoto raised his head and

saw that the rayon man's house had collapsed. He

thou'ght a bomb had fallen directly on it. Such clouds

of dust had risen that there was a sort of twilight

around. In panic, not thinking for the moment of

Mr. Matsuo under the ruins, he dashed out into the

street. He noticed as he ran that the concrete wall of

the estate had fallen over toward the house rather

than away from it. In the street, the first thing he

saw was a squad of soldiers who had been burrowing

into the hillside opposite, making one of the thousands

of dugouts in which the Japanese apparently intended

to resist invasion, hill by hill, life for life; the soldiers

were coming out of the hole, where they should have

been safe, and blood was running from their heads,

chests and backs. They were silent and dazed.

Under what seemed to be a local dust cloud, the day

grew darker and darker.

At nearly midnight, the night before the bomb was

dropped, an announcer on the city's radio station said

that about two hundred B-29s were approaching

southern Honshti and advised the population of

Hiroshima to evacuate to their designated " safe

areas." Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, the tailor's widow

who lived in the section called Nobori-cho and who had

long had a habit of doing as she was told, got her three

children a ten-year-old boy, Toshio, an eight-year-old

girl, Yaeko, and a five-year-old girl, Myeko out of

bed and dressed them and walked with them to the

military area known as the East Parade Ground, on

the north-east edge of the city. There she unrolled

some mats and the children lay down on them. They

slept until about two* when they were awakened by the

roar of the planes going over Hiroshima. As soon as

the planes had passed, Mrs. Nakamura started back

with her children. They reached home a little after

two-thirty and she immediately turned 4 on the radio,

which, to her distress, was just then broadcasting a

fresh warning. When she looked at the children and

saw how tired they were, and when she thought of the

number of trips they had made in past weeks, all to no

purpose, to the East Parade .Ground, she decided that

in spite of the instructions on the radio, she simply

could not face starting out all over again. She put

the children in their bedrolls on the floor, lay down

herself at three o'clock, and fell asleep at once, so

soundly that when planes passed over later, she did

not waken to their sound.

The siren jarred her awake at about seven. She

arose, dressed quickly, and hurried to the house of

Mr. Nakamoto, the head of her Neighbourhood

Association, and asked him what she should do. He

said that she should remain at home unless an urgent

warning a series of intermittent blasts of the siren

was sounded. She returned home, lit the stove in the

kitchen, set some rice to cook, and sat down to read

that morning's Hiroshima Chugoku. To her relief,

the all-clear sounded at eight o'clock. She heard the

children stirring, so she went and gave each of them

a handful of peanuts and told them to stay on their

bedrolls, because they w&re tired from the night's

walk. She had hoped that they would go back to

sleep, but the man in the house directly to the south

began to make a terrible hullabaloo of hammering,

wedging, ripping, and splitting. The prefectural

government, convinced, as everyone in Hiroshima was,

that the city would be attacked soon, had began to

press with threats and warnings for the completion

of wide fire lanes, which, it' was hoped, might act in

conjunction with the rivers to localise any fires started

by an incendiary raid ; and the neighbour was reluct-

antly sacrificing his home to the city's safety. Just the

day before, the prefecture had ordered all able-bodied

girls from the secondary -schools to spend a few days

helping to clear these lanes, and they started work soon

after the all-clear sounded.

Mrs. Nakamura went back to the kitchen, looked at

the rice, and began watching the man next door. At

first she was annoyed with him for making so much

noise, but then she was moved almost to tears by

pity. Her emotion was specifically directed toward

her neighbour, tearing down his home, board by board, .

at a time when there was so much unavoidable destruc-

tion, but undoubtedly she also felt a generalised,

community pity, to say nothing of self-pity. She had

not had an easy time. Her husbarfd, Isawa, had gone

into the army just after Myeko was born, and she had

heard nothing from or of him for a long time, until, on

March 5th, 1942, she received a seven-word telegram:

"Isawa died an honourable death at Singapore."

She learned later that he had died on February 15th,

the day Singapore fell, and that he had been a corporal.

Isawa had not been a particularly prosperous tailor, and

his only capital was a Sankoku sewing machine. After

his death, when his allotments stopped coming, Mrs.

Nakamuru got out the machine and began to take in

piecework herself, and since then had supported the

children, but poorly, by sewing.

As Mrs. Nakamura stood watching her neighbour,

everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever

seen. She did not notice what happened to the man

next door; the reflex of a mother set her in motion

toward her children. She had taken a single step

(the house was 1,350 yards, or three-quarters of a mile,

from the centre of the explosion) when something

picked her up and she seemed to fly into the next room

over the raised sleeping platform, pursued by parts of

her house.

Timbers fell around her as she landed, and a shower

of tiles pommelled her; everything became dark, for she

was buried. The debris did not cover her deeply.

She rose up and freed herself. She heard a child

cry, " Mother, help me ! " and saw her youngest

Myeko, the five-year-old buried up to her breast and

unable to move. As Mrs. Nakamura started frantically

to claw her way toward the baby, she could see or hear

nothing of her other children.
In the days right before the bombing, Dr. Masakazu

Fujii, being prosperous, hedonistic, and, at the time

not too busy, had been allowing himself the luxury of

sleeping until nine or nine-thirty, but fortunately he

had to get up early the morning the bomb was dropped

to see a house guest off on a train. He rose at six,

and half an hour later walked with his friend to the

station, not far away, across two of the rivers. He was

back home by seven, just as the siren sounded its

sustained warning. He ate breakfast and then,

because the morning was already hot, undressed down

to his underwear and went out on the porch to read

the paper. This porch in fact, the whole building-

was curiously constructed. Dr. Fujii was the proprietor

of a peculiarly Japanese institution, a private, single-

doctor hospital. This building, perched beside and

over the water of the Kyo River, and next to the bridge

of the same name, contained thirty rooms for thirty

patients and their kinsfolk for, according to Japanese

custom, when a person falls sick and goes to a hospital,

one or more members of his family go and live there

with him, to cook for him, bathe, massage, and read

to him, and to offer incessant familial sympathy,

without which a Japanese patient would be miserable

indeed. Dr. Fujii had no beds only straw mats for

his patients. He did, however, have all sorts of modern

equipment: an X-ray machine, diathermy apparatus,

and a fine tiled laboratory. The structure rested

two-thirds on the land, one-third on piles over the

tidal waters of the Kyo. This overhang, the part of

the building where Dr. Fujii lived, was queer-looking, but

it was cool in summer and from the porch, which

faced away from the centfe of the city, the prospect

of the river, with pleasure boats drifting up and down it,

was always refreshing. Dr. Fujii had occasionally had

anxious moments when the Ota and its mouth branches

rose to flood, but the piling was apparently firm enough

and the house had always held.

Dr. Fujii had been relatively idle for about a month

because in July, as the number of untouched cities in

Japan dwindled and as Hiroshima seemed more and

more inevitably a target, he began turning patients

away, on the ground that in case of a fire raid he would

not be able to evacuate them. Now he had only two

patients left a woman from Yano, injured in the

shoulder, and a young man of twenty-five recovering

from burns he had suffered when the steel factory near

Hiroshima in which he worked had been hit. Dr.

Fujii had six nurses to tend his patients. His wife and

children were safe; his wife and one son were living

outside Osaka, and another son and two daughters

were in the country on Kyushu. A niece was living

with him, and a maid and a manservant. He had little

to do and did not mind, for he had saved some money.

At fifty he was healthy, convivial, and calm, and he was

pleased to pass the evenings drinking whisky with

friends, always sensibly and for the sake of conversa-

tion. Before the war, he had affected brands imported

from Scotland and America; now he was perfectly

satisfied with the best Japanese brand, Suntory.

Dr. Fujii sat down cross-legged in his underwear on

the spotless matting of the porch, put on his glasses,

and started reading the Osaka Asahi. He liked to read

the Osaka news because his wife was there. He saw

the flash. To him faced away from the centre and

looking at his paper it seemed a brilliant yellow.

Startled, he began to rise to his feet. In that moment

(he was 1,550 yards from the centre), the hospital leaned

behind his rising and, with a terrible ripping noise,

toppled into the river. The Doctor, still in the act of

getting to his feet, was thrown forward and around and

over; he was buffetted and gripped; he lost track of

everything, because things were so speeded up ; he felt

the water.

Dr. Fujii hardly had time to think that he was dying

before he realized that he was alive, squeezed tightly

by two long timbers in a V across his chest, like a

morsel suspended between two huge chopsticksheld

upright, so that he could not move, with his head

miraculously above water and his torso and legs in it

The remains of his hospital were all around him in a

mad assortment of splintered lumber and materials for

the relief of pain. His left shoulder hurt terribly. His

glasses were gone.

Miss Toshiko Sasaki, the East Asia Tin Works

clerk, who is not related to Dr. Sasaki, got up at three

o'clock in the morning on the day the bomb fell.

There was extra housework to do. Her eleven-month-

old brother, Akio, had come down the day before with

a serious stomach upset; her mother had taken him

to the Tamura Pcdiatric Hospital and was staying there

with him. Miss Sasaki, who was about twenty, had to

cook breakfast for her father, a brother, a sister, and

herself, and since the hospital, because of the war,

was unable to provide food to prepare a whole day's

meals TFor her mother and the baby, in time for her

father, who worked in a factory making rubber ear-

plugs for artillery crews, to take the food by on his

way to the plant. When she had finished and had

cleaned and put away the cooking things, it was nearly

seven. The family lived in Koi, and she had a forty-

five-minute trip to the tin works, in the section of town

called Kannon-machi. She was in charge of the

personnel records in the factory. She left Koi at seven,

and as soon as she reached the plant, she went with

some of the other girls from the personnel department

to the factory auditorium. A prominent local Navy

man, a former employee, had committed suicide the

day before by throwing himself under a train a death

considered honourable enough to warrant a memorial

service, which was to be held at the tin works at ten

o'clock that morning. In the large hall, Miss Salaki

and the others made suitable preparations for the

meeting. This work took about twenty minutes.

Miss Sasaki went back to her office and sat down at

her desk. She was quite far from the windows, which

were off to her left, and behind her were.-a couple of

tall bookcases containing all the books of the factory

library, which the personnel department had organized.

She settled herself at her desk, put some things in a

drawer, and shifted papers. She thought that before

she began to make entries in her lists of new employees,

discharges, and departures for the Army, she would

chat for a moment with the girl at her right. Just as

she turned her head away from the windows, the room

was filled with a blinding light. She was paralyzed by

fear, fixed still in her chair for a long moment (the

plant was 1,600 yards from the centre).

Everything fell, and Miss Sasaki lost consciousness.

The ceiling dropped suddenly and the wooden floor

above collapsed in splinters and the people up there

came down and the roof above them gave way ; but

principally and first of all, the bookcases right behind

her swooped forward and the contents threw her down,

with her left leg horribly twisted and breaking under-

neath her. There, in the tin factory, in the first moment

ofjihe atomic age, a human being was crushed by


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