Japanese Citizens Describe What Life Was Like After The United States Dropped The Atomic Bomb

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.

Photo: Photograph Curator / Flickr / Public Domain

  • They Had To Decide What To Do With The Remains Of Their Loved Ones
    Photo: Wayne Miller / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    They Had To Decide What To Do With The Remains Of Their Loved Ones

    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 Blast Were Stigmatized

    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 'The City Of Yakuza,' Notorious Japanese Gangsters
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Hiroshima Became 'The City Of Yakuza,' Notorious Japanese Gangsters

    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.

  • Young People Had To Raise Their Siblings After Their Parents Passed
    Photo: National Archives at College Park / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Young People Had To Raise Their Siblings After Their Parents Passed

    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.

  • Those Hurt Laid In Hospitals, Fearing Their Demise

    Fujio Torikoshi was a child when the United States dropped an atomic device on Hiroshima. The force of the device sent him flying backward, and he passed out in front of a stone container filled with water. When he regained consciousness, he attempted to soothe his burns by submersing them in the water, but it only increased the pain. 

    Torikoshi was in and out of consciousness for several days. When he came to, doctors told him he would only live until age 20. He has survived to be over 80 years old, and says every day he "[prays] - earnestly, relentlessly - for world peace."

  • They Couldn't Give Water To Parched Victims
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    They Couldn't Give Water To Parched Victims

    On the day of the Nagasaki attack, Inosuke Hayasaki recalls passing burn victims crying out for water. A passerby told him that giving the victims water would harm them. He had to make the difficult decision of providing those who weren't going to survive with what would be their last drink of water or of possibly preserving their lives for just a while longer.

    Hayasaki decided to find a water source for the burn victims. He tore a piece of fabric off a futon and dunked it in a rice patty. He then wrung out the fabric over the 40 burn victims' mouths, running back and forth from the rice patty to the victims.

    All of those Hayasaki gave water to that day perished. The decision continued to haunt him every day, even into old age. Dr. Hiroo Dohy of Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital & Atomic Bomb Survivors Hospital, says it's possible that giving victims water may increase their blood flow and result in further bleeding, but it's hard to generalize, as the science is largely dependent on an individual's condition.