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Memories of Nagasaki Without the war, we would all have been happy

Masae Nakamura


I was born in Obama-cho, Minami-takaki in Nagasaki Prefecture well know for it’s hot springs. I will be 84 this year. At the age of eighteen I had just returned from China. It was 1911. I had been Invited to the Nagasaki Kunchi (Festival).Later on I found out that the invitation had been a pretence to a meeting with the intention of arranging a marriage.



The Hypocentre



On getting married I lived with my new husbands family. My late husband had been a handsome man and the eldest of son of nine children. I was at first surprised to find such a large family living together, twelve in all. As the wife of the eldest son I was expected to carry out more important household matters. Hard at times but I did my best.

The youngest brother-in-law was fond of me and treated me like his second mother. He was a second year elementary school pupil at that time. I always felt encouraged by him. Unfortunately he was to die at the age of nineteen.

On that day the weather was fine in Nagasaki. The all clear siren had sounded, and we had returned home from the dugout. I was on the balcony hanging the mattresses of the drying pole. At that moment I saw a plane flying over. I thought this was strange as the all clear had been sounded. As I started to hang out the second mattress there was a terrifying explosion and a blast. The roof tiles blew off and the glass of the side door smashed. Fortunately What saved me was the fact that I had been between the two mattresses. A shout brought me to my senses. It was my husband calling me from downstairs. I went down to find mother trapped under the Buddhist Altar. She always used to pray in front of the Altar when she came home. She had been doing this when the blast occurred. The altar was huge and heavy and my husband needed my help. We somehow managed to pull her out.

On the evening of that day my sister-in-law called on us. Her husband had not returned home from his job at the Mitsubishi Arms Company and she was worried. She had heard that there were many bodies around the arsenal and she could not face going there by herself. So my husband and I went there with her early the next morning. It was hard to make our way there. Heads, bodies and anything else you may care to think of that was human was lying around everywhere. We managed to somehow fight our way to Nagasaki Station but could go no further. Nobody else could either. The air was filled with the smell of dead bodies. A horse was lying on fire. There were piles of bodies, children crying, “Mummy, mummy” and “Water, give me water.” I wanted so much to for them to find their mothers, wanted to give them water. I hoped that they would depart from this life in peace. Even now when I think of it tears come to my eyes. There was nothing I could do for them, just nothing! It was all too much for me to take. I notice one child’s face was black. Looking closely it was covered with flies.

After we returned home I was unable to drink, I could not eat for three days. Four relatives of my husband, my uncle and two cousins died in that area. We want to go and give our condolences to their bereaved families but could not bring ourselves to return their again.

My husbands brother-in-law came back from hospital in Omura three days after. His gums were swollen and bleeding and his body was covered with spots. He was a sturdy, big man but cried in pain. He was to be bedridden for another eight years before he died.

Several days later my husband had a sore throat. He said that it was so painful he could not drink. Then his body started to turn yellow here and there, even his face and inside his mouth, The sheet he used was also discoloured. Our neighbour told us that bathing in a soup made from a particular type of freshwater clam would help him. We bought a lot of these shell fish from Saga Prefecture. The Doctor said that there were thousands of patients like him in Nagasaki. In the hope of receiving good medical treatment we sent him to a hospital in Fukuoka city on the overnight train. After x-rays the doctor said he would not survive. He was ill , mostly bedridden and lived ten more years until he died of liver and lung cancer.

I had lost my beloved husband and my home and with a mountain of debts did not know what to do. My parents -in-law had run a rice store. They were in debt because they had lost their stock and were unable to collect money from credit sales. Three of my brothers-in-law had been killed and I had to pay their debts off little by little with what I earned. After my husbands funeral.

I returned to Fukuoka. I was forty four. Since then I have lived alone. I started work in obstetrics and gynaecology as a trainee nurse. All my personal belongings and a quilt cover in a cloth wrapper with not even a change of clothes. My wages were low as in those days one was only paid for attending a patient and most of them only stayed in hospital over night. I had never had a baby myself and caring for expectant and nursing mothers was exhausting work. The first time I attended a delivery I was so startled at seeing the babies head I ran from the delivery room. I continued to work for a small fee attending births and repaid the debts at two or three thousand yen a month. I was glad to receive second hand clothes given to me by my sister. I worked and worked and managed to pay one third of the debts. My mother-in-law visited me from Nagasaki and told me to repay the debts from a pension she had received for their youngest son. She had brought me the money wrapped in a band around her waist. She was sorry for all the hardships I had encumbered and we cried together all night. I kept the band she wore and weep with gratitude when I look at it.

Also my brother gave me money he got from mortgaging their house so that I could clear my debts. Finally being debt free I felt I could return to Nagasaki and visit my husbands grave and the people there to thank them for their kindness. After that I continued to work to pay for my funeral. I had begun to get tired at sick so easily. I consulted Dr. Morishita at the hospital I worked at. He said gently “Mrs. Nakamura you are an A-Bomb victim aren’t you? You must get a thorough examination”. He wrote me a letter of introduction for the Chidoribashi Hospital.

I had never told anyone except him that I was in the blast. I was afraid patient would not want me to attend to them. I had heard people say, People from Nagasaki are weird. They have deformed children. Don’t let one of them marry into your family. I always pretended not to pay attention. I could not hide my Nagasaki accent but always said that I was from another part of the City.

I was diagnosed with a cardiac infraction. The operation revealed a biliary calculus and the Hospital recommended me to apply for a bomb victim’s certificate which I received when I was sixty four (1972). I then quit my job to take care of my self and applied for national assistance. I did not really want to do this but the doctors said I should take care of myself.

Although my life has been terrible I sincerely think is has been happy. I am grateful to everyone who has been so kind to me. When by husband passed away I thought of committing suicide. As I repaid my debts with just a few thousand yen I was desperate thinking I would never be able to clear them. In constant hardship it is difficult to recall the number of nights I cried over it. When I first went to work I used to fold the quilt cover in two on the floor and get between it. I was so cold I cold hardly sleep. I was pleased if a baby cried. It gave me a chance to get up and get warm as I made the baby some milk.

If there had been no War we could all have been happy. How many people were hurt by it. How many people suffered hardship from it. No more war! Never! My mother-in law was strong at heart. When her sons received their call -up cards she said, We should be grateful, our son will fight for the Emperor. She shouted,Banzai out loud and sent off her sons. When she received notification of their death she went to bed ill and not able to eat. It was I who had to go and collect their ashes.

I have to thank my brother for helping me so much in clearing my debts for me. He had always wanted to live as long as our mother and had his wish passing away like her at 87 years of age. Like both of them I would like to live to that age if possible. After the interview: We were impressed by Mrs. Nakamura, who sat elegantly and correctly. She has had a long difficult life which we believe has given her profound personality. She was cheerful with a sense of humour which made her to appear younger than she was. We thought she stood for the ideals a traditional woman of old Japan.

January 18th 1995 - Interviewers Toshiya Furukawa of Sawara-ku and Nobuko Hayashi of Nishi-ku (Fukuoka)