07 January 2010
Death of the nijuuhibaku
Today’s Independent reports on the death on Monday at the age of 93 of a man who has equal claim to the title of luckiest and unluckiest person ever. It is a matter of personal opinion to decide which title applies. Tsutomu Yamaguchi was the first (and only?) person known to have survived both the Hiroshima and the Nagasaki atom bombs. Last year the Japanese government formally recognised him as the only "nijuuhibaku" - double A-bomb survivor.
I had posted an item about him here in March, calling him a double hibakusha.
Mr Yamaguchi was a young engineer on a business trip to Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, when a B-29 US bomber dropped its payload – the "Little Boy", which would kill or injure 160,000 people by the end of the day. Three kilometres from Ground Zero, the blast temporarily blinded him, damaged his hearing and inflicted horrific burns over much of the top half of his body.
Three days later, he was back in his home city of Nagasaki, 190 miles away, explaining his injuries to his boss, when the same white light filled the room. "I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima," he said later. The "Fat Man" bomb killed about 70,000 people and created a city where, in the famous words of its mayor, "not even the sound of insects could be heard".
His exposure to so much radiation led to years of agony. He went bald and developed skin cancers. His son Katsutoshi died of cancer in 2005 aged 59, and his daughter Naoko never enjoyed good health. His wife died in 2008 of kidney and liver cancer. Toshiko suffered one of the many symptoms of fallout survivors: an abnormally low white blood cell count.
But once he recovered, he returned to work as a ship engineer and rarely discussed what happened to him. He quietly raised his family and declined to campaign against nuclear weapons until he felt the weight of his experiences and began to speak out. In his eighties, he wrote a book about his experiences, and took part in a documentary called Nijuuhibaku. The film shows him weeping as he describes watching bloated corpses floating in the city's rivers and encountering the walking dead of Hiroshima, whose melting flesh hung from them like "giant gloves".
Four years ago, he spoke to the UN in New York, where he pleaded with the General Assembly to fight for the abolition of nuclear weapons. When the Japanese government belatedly recognised his "double victim" status, he said that his record "can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die."
My Yamaguchi you suffered more in two dreadful days than any man should suffer in many lifetimes. You then spent over 60 years living with the consequences. I hope that you rest in peace