Regan Schoultz is an NZME news service reporter based in Auckland.

Japan: Hidden scars of Hiroshima

In a tiny pancake shop, Regan Schoultz meets a survivor of the atomic raid.
A peace festival in Hiroshima. Photo / Freedom II Andres
A peace festival in Hiroshima. Photo / Freedom II Andres

This is ground zero.

Hiroshima, a city once destroyed by nuclear weaponry, now rebuilt.

The streets are quiet, almost European in style and skyscrapers loom over the busy pathways. A clean river snakes through the city, its banks lined with memorial statues and empty cherry blossom trees.

Today Hiroshima is beautiful.

But a single broken and derelict building in the city centre tells a different story of a different time.

A time when the city and its people were burned to the ground by a bomb - the first of its kind to be used on human beings - dropped by the Americans in the summer of 1945.

At Okonomimura, a small, crowded pancake house in the back streets of Hiroshima, I met rosy cheeked 87-year-old Fumie Onoue. She was 16 when the nuclear bomb was dropped.

With the help of a translator she shared some of her experiences with me, although some memories were too painful to talk about.

On the morning of August 6, Fumie was at work in a factory 30 minutes away from the city centre, making supplies to aid the war her brothers had been sent to fight.

She, with hundreds of other young men and women, had been stationed at factories, warehouses and demolition sites around the city tasked with fuelling the war effort and clearing fire routes to fortify the city.

A-Bomb ruins in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Photo / Getty Images
A-Bomb ruins in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Photo / Getty Images


It was a normal day, no different from any other, until the bomb hit.

"I saw a bright white flash coming from the city centre," she said. "It was terrifying, I didn't know what had happened."

The factory where Fumie worked was far enough out of the city to escape unscathed. But many closer to the city were not so lucky.

"People were walking from the city centre to go to the evacuation point. I wondered why dead people were walking towards me. They looked dead, they were burned and their skin was coming off their arms and legs."

Fumie had planned to take the train into the city that day.

"If I had caught the train, I would have died."

Instead she was able to join those walking to safety and was met by her parents - who lived in a town outside the city - at the harbour, where ships were waiting to ferry people to safety.

Fumie was safe and physically unharmed. But approximately 350,000 people - civilians and military personnel - were directly exposed to the A-bomb explosion and around 145,000 of them died within the first five months from the immediate effects of the bomb.

Symptoms that appeared soon after the bombing, known as acute effects, caused by heat, radiation and the blast, included bleeding gums, hair loss, diarrhoea, fever and impeded body functions.

These had largely subsided five months after the devastation.

Some would suffer the long-term effects of radiation, which can take decades to manifest in the body: cancer and skin problems in people of all ages, and microcephaly in children.

For Fumie the effects of the radiation would became evident 10 years on.

"My skin turned a dark colour on my arms and chest and then eventually it went away. I did some healing," she said.

Many others, however, were unable to heal.

Snippets of their lives are pasted on the walls of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

A patch of clothing, a pocket watch, fingernails, a sliver of skin or a lock of hair is all that remains of some of the victims.

"Shigeru Orimen was a first-year student at Second Hiroshima Prefectural Junior High School. He was exposed to the bomb at his building demolition site.

"Early in the morning of August 9, his mother found his body with this lunch box clutched under the stomach. The lunch Shigeru never ate was charred black," the sign read.

Fumie Onoue, pancake maker, who survived the Hiroshima nuclear bomb blast in Japan. Photo / Regan Schoultz
Fumie Onoue, pancake maker, who survived the Hiroshima nuclear bomb blast in Japan. Photo / Regan Schoultz


Some in the city were burned within an inch of their lives, their skin charred black like meat left on a barbecue.

Their pictures cover the museum's concrete walls.

There were those whose bodies would not even be found. Small details of the lives, such as an item of clothing, were all that was left after the blast.

Then there were those affected by the radiation. Their stories are told via headset, their suffering described with the detail of a book.

It is a stark reminder of the human impact of the bomb.

Walking through Hiroshima it is impossible to know what the city has been through and how it's people have suffered.

It is now a city rebuilt, its scars few and far between. But survivors can be found - in small pancake shops of all places.

Checklist

GETTING THERE
Korean Air has a special on return airfares to Japan (Toyko, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Fukuoka), with prices starting from $1239, for travel between July 16 and November 30. koreanair.com

ONLINE
jnto.go.jp

- NZ Herald

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