Rising from the Ashes: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness from Hiroshima

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, we are featuring a new blog series, HIROSHIMA 1945-2015, throughout August.

Our first blog is by Dr Akiko MIkamo. Dr MIkamo was born and raised in Hiroshima by parents who survived the atomic blast on August 6, 1945. In her blog, she tells the incredible story of her father, Shinji Mikamo.

 Akiko

President, US-Japan Psychological Services

(www.usjapanpsych.com)

President, San Diego-WISH: Worldwide Initiative to Safeguard Humanity

(www.sdwish.org)

August 6, 1945 was a hot and humid summer day, like any other summer day in Hiroshima.  My father, Shinji Mikamo, was 19 years old, still before coming of age at 20.  He was on top of his house roof, taking roof tiles off in order to help create a make-shift quarter at his neighbor’s home he and his father were going to move to.  The Japanese government had given the building demolition order to every other section throughout Hiroshima City in order to make firebreaks in case of the “carpet” incendiary air bombing like 215 other cities in Japan had suffered from by that time.  Most homes were made of paper and woods, and raging fires would spread so rapidly when cities were air-raided by hundreds of B-29s.  But Hiroshima had been untouched and remained completely intact despite numerous air-raid warning sirens and emergency escape practices day and night.

Soldier

 Shinji Mikamo wearing the Citizen’s Uniform, 16 year old

That morning, not a few people in Hiroshima saw three B-29’s in the blue sky, which some called “Angels” because they were shiny and beautiful with their spread out wings up high.

At 8:15 am, as Shinji was wiping his sweat on his forehead with his arm, turning his face to the right, he saw a blinding flash, ten times as bright as the sun.  Before he knew anything, he was blasted off the roof and thrown 30 feet away into the pitch darkness.

 “Little Boy” was dropped off into the human world from the womb of his mother, “Enola Gay.”  The first atomic bomb in the history of mankind exploded over 350,000 humans in Hiroshima, mostly civilians.  Among them, were many women, children, and elderly.

US Army photo

(Photo by the US Army, Owned by Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)

Being on top of his house roof, only ¾ of a mile from the epicenter, Shinji had nothing whatsoever to shield him from the atomic blast.  He was exposed directly to the unimaginable heat, which reached several thousands of degrees Fahrenheit momentarily in the vicinity, the enormous amount of radiations, which no humans had ever been bathed with before, and the full force blast of the explosion.

Buried under the collapsed house materials, Shinji heard his father’s voice calling for him.  His father was also outside of the house in the front yard, and his father had severe burns on his face and arms.  Nonetheless, he was determined to save his son no matter what.

Severely injured and burned, Shinji was dug out of the rubble by his father as a fierce fire approached. Shinji was pushed forward by his father, who refused to let him give up. With no antibiotics, painkillers, food, clean water, or shelters, Shinji came so close to death as his burned flesh was getting rotten under the hot sun for 5 days as they staggered around, desperately looking for a rescue that didn’t exist in the devastated city filled with corps and charcoaled figures or tens of thousands of people who couldn’t move, begging for water.

A famous poet and author, Tamiki Hara, later turned out to have been nearby Shinji and his father at the time of the explosion.  He wrote in his poem in 1950 on Kindai Bungaku, titled “These are humans:”

            These are humans; they really are.

            Look at what the atomic bomb made them into.

            Their flesh terribly swollen     

            ….

            ….

            …

            The voice that barely slips out of their bloated lips,

                        “please help…”

            Fading, lifeless words.

            These.  These are humans; they really are.

            They really are human faces.

Shinji was among many Tamiki Hara must have seen by the river bank.

Shinji’s father’s determination and wisdom were what miraculously saved Shinji, who was begging to be let go because excruciating pain from his rotting and maggot-fested burns was beyond unbearable, and no hope could be even imagined.  Shinji was getting weaker and weaker to the point he couldn’t even turn his head ever so slightly lying on the ground.  But his father would not let him give up, instilling the spirit into Shinji.

They encounter demons and angels in this hell, and Shinji, who had lost everything, had no idea that pain and hardship would haunt him for decades to come—a miraculous journey that eventually leads him to empathizing with his destroyers.

Neighborhood

(Shinji’s neighborhood, Photo by Toshio Kawamoto)

Three months later, Shinji barely walked to the site where their house used to be and found the heat-fused pocket watch out of the ashes that belonged to his father, who apparently vanished after they parted. Its glass covered was blown off, its hands melted and fused on its face, slightly displaced by the blast, but still clearly showing the time of the explosion.  8:15.

It was the only relic that showed his connections to his family and ancestry. Shinji later donated the watch to Hiroshima Peace Museum, which was sent to the UN Headquarter in NY for the permanent display in 1985.  When I visited the UN in 1989, I discovered the watch had been just stolen.  There, I learned the true lesson from Shinji’s father and Shinji, “When you lose something, you gain something.”

Even with all the painful losses and hardships, Shinji never held grudge against Americans.  Since I was a little girl, he raised me saying, “Akiko, Americans are not to blame.  The war is to blame.  It’s human weakness to be unwilling to listen to and work with others from different backgrounds and with deferent values and belief systems.  When you grow up, I would like you to learn English, learn foreign cultures, and whatever profession you choose, I would like you to become a bridge across the oceans and help people understand and collaborate with others even if they are different, so that no other human beings should ever have to suffer from nuclear wars like we did.  NOT EVER.”

Shinji

 Shinji Mikamo Today

So I learned English, became an English teacher in Japan first, then, moved to the United States, pursued further advanced education and training and became a medical psychologist, author, professor, and multicultural executive coach.  As president of US-Japan Psychological Services and president of San Diego-WISH: Worldwide Initiative to Safeguard Humanity, I dedicate my life to educate, inspire, and empower people from various cultures, so they can empathize with others and create harmonious and peaceful friendship, families, communities, and organizations.

In 2013, I published “Rising from the Ashes: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness from Hiroshima,” in the United States, depicting what my family went through, and how my father lived afterwards, in his words.  The Japanese version, “8:15  Survival and Forgiveness from Hiroshima” was published in 2014, and the Italian version, “Sopravvissuto alla Bomba Atomica” was just published on July 30, 2015. Now the Polish version will be published soon.

 Rising Hiroshima book815atomica

www.RisingHiroshima.com

My father is 89 years old now, still living in Hiroshima. It is the responsibility of our generation and younger generations to learn from the history and apply the lessons into our own lives and leadership, so we could together create a world with no threats of nuclear wars or any other atrocities.

Our NPO, San Diego-WISH annually holds the International Peace & Humanity Day on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversary on Aug 6 & 9 or that week in San Diego, California.  On Hiroshima Day, we hold the World Peace Ceremony, and we gong the Friendship Bell at the exact moment of the atomic bomb explosion at 8:15am on Aug 6 Japan time (12:15 am BST) simultaneously with the Hiroshima World Peace Ceremony.  On or near Nagasaki Day, we have the Floating of Paper Lanterns and Cultural Exchange event.  http://sdwish.org/peace-humanity-day-2015/

 

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