The United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, on August 6 and August 9, 1945, respectively. Together, the atomic devices instantly vaporized thousands of Japanese citizens, seriously harmed others, and permanently burned victims' shadows into the ground. The devices leveled two cities and changed the history of armed conflict forever.
It was a tragic end to WWII, but since then, survivors have shared their stories of the horrific experiences. The devastating effects of the attacks have been immortalized in photographs, but the immediate destruction often overshadows those who continued to suffer decades after. Japanese citizens who survived the atomic attacks have faced serious illness, PTSD, and stigmatization due to a lack of understanding about the effects of radiation. Despite their tragedy, many have dedicated their lives to eradicating atomic devices so the same atrocities can never happen again.
Yoshiro Yamawaki recalls the aftermath of the blast in Nagasaki. Thousands of families were left with the decision of how to dispose of their loved ones' remains. Yamawaki and his brothers found the remains of their father inside a factory. They made the decision to cremate him.
The Yamawaki brothers propped their father against a pole outside the factory where they discovered him and set his remains on fire. When they came back the next day, however, things had not gone according to plan:
When we returned the next morning to collect his ashes, we discovered that his body had been partially cremated... I could not bear to see my father like this... my oldest brother... [suggested] that we take a piece of his skull - based on a common practice in Japanese funerals in which family members pass around a tiny piece of the skull with chopsticks after cremation - and leave him be.
As soon as our chopsticks touched the surface, however, the skull cracked open like plaster... My brothers and I screamed and ran away, leaving our father behind. We abandoned him, in the worst state possible.
Those who survived the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, called hibakusha, faced discrimination in Japan. Because of misconceptions regarding how radiation poisoning occurs, many communities shunned survivors for fear the radiation would be passed onto them. For instance, survivor Chiyono Yoneda recalls giving lotus roots to her neighbors then finding them in the trash the next day. A child at Yoneda's daughter's school told her his parents tossed the roots for fear that they would transmit the genbaku, which means "atomic bomb" in Japanese.
Japanese citizens continue to live with the fear of radiation sickness - many not fully understanding how it's contracted. The discrimination also affects children of survivors. One woman was engaged to be married until her fiance discovered her father was a survivor. Another man recounted not receiving a job offer after he disclosed his mother was a survivor.
Hiroshima became known for its high concentration of Yakuza members, which Emiko Okada attributes to the large number of orphaned children left to provide for themselves after the atomic attacks wiped out their families:
They [committed unlawful acts] to get by. They were taken in by the wrong adults. They were later bought and sold by said adults. Orphans who grew up in Hiroshima harbor a special hatred for grownups.
Okada, too, attributes the atrocities inflicted on Japan to adults. After the attacks, she lost her sister and grew so ill that she vomited and her gums bled. Okada now calls on adults to protect the "lives and dignity" of children.
Kumiko Arakawa, who was only 20 when the US attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, recalls having to provide for her younger siblings. Her mother, her father, and four of her sisters passed, all within three days of the attacks.
Forced to support her surviving family members, Arakawa couldn't recall how she managed to provide food or put her remaining sisters through school. In fact, she can't remember much of the attack at all:
Some people have asked me what I saw on my way home the day after the [attack], on August 10 - "surely you saw many... bodies," they would say - but I don’t recall seeing a single corpse. It sounds strange, I’m sure - but it is the truth.