Tsutomu Yamaguchi (1916 – 2010)
I don’t know what constitutes a bad week at work but the one that Japanese engineer, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, had in August 1945 must be pretty high up there.
Working for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, 6th August 1945 was Tsutomu’s last day of a three-month long secondment to the Hiroshima office working on the design of a new oil tanker. He could be excused for thinking about his home in Nagasaki and his wife, Hisako, and baby son, Katsutoshi, as he walked towards the docks to work.
At 8.15 am his thoughts were disturbed by an unusual sight – a bomber looming in the distance and two small parachutes. Then there was an almighty flash and an explosion, the force of which bowled him over. Tsutomu’s ear drums were ruptured, he was blinded temporarily and he sustained serious burns to the left-hand side of his upper torso. What he had witnessed and experienced was the atomic bomb that the Americans had dropped on Hiroshima from the Enola Gay.
Fortunately, he was able to crawl to a nearby shelter, rest a while and then set out to find some of his colleagues. After finding them, he spent the night in an air-raid shelter and decided to make his way home to Nagasaki. Arriving there in the early hours of the morning of 8th August, he presented himself at the local hospital where he was patched up and swathed in bandages. Once he got home, his family barely recognised this spectral figure that walked through the door.
But Tsutomu was a trooper and dragged himself to the Mitsubishi offices in Nagasaki on 9th August. His boss wanted a full account of what had happened in Hiroshima, expressing some doubt that so much death and destruction could be caused by a single bomb. So at 11 am Tsutomo was recounting what he could recall when the landscape suddenly exploded with a flash, sending broken glass and debris into the room. Yes, the Americans had dropped their second atomic bomb – it was almost as if they were following Tsutomu around.
A combination of Nagasaki’s hilly landscape and the reinforced stairwell of the office block muffled the intensity of the blast and so Tsutomu escaped relatively unscathed, f you ignore the fact that his bandages had been blown off and he had been subjected to another dose of radiation. He made his way home and was horrified to find that it had been flattened. Miraculously, at the time of the blast his wife and son were out, getting some ointment for his burns, and had found refuge in a tunnel. If Tsutomu had not been caught up in the Hiroshima blast, it is likely that his immediate family would not have survived the Nagasaki bomb.
Although his is a remarkable story, Tsutomu wasn’t the only person to endure and survive the two atomic bombs. Two of his colleagues, Akira Iwanga and Kuniyoshi Sato, were in the wrong place at the wrong time twice as was a kite-maker, Shigeyoshi Morimoto, who was only half a mile from the epicentre of the Hiroshima bomb when it fell. It is thought up to 165 people experienced both attacks but Tsutomu was the only one recognised by the Japanese government, belatedly in 2009, as a nijyuu hibakusha, a twice-bombed person.
Sadly, in Japan hibakusha, atomic bomb survivors, and their progeny were (and still are) discriminated against socially and in the workplace because of fears that radiation sickness was both hereditary and contagious. Although seriously ill with radiation sickness, Tsutomu survived and lived to the grand old age of 94 before succumbing to stomach cancer.
I will never complain about a bad day again!