After the Bomb

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The Survivors

1. How many survived?

A broad accounting of survivors takes into account several groups: (1) directly exposed persons (primary victims), (2) fetuses exposed in their mothers’ wombs,
(3) indirectly exposed persons affected by residual radiation (secondary victims), including (4) early entrants into the two cities and (5) fallout victims in areas where the “black rain” fell. Besides these, “victims” included another large group: (6) “others affected” (tertiary victims) by loss of spouse, close relatives, and housing and household furnishings.

While it is impossible to tally all who fall within these various groupings, a national survey of October 1950 gives a national survivor total of 283,508, with 158,597 for Hiroshima, 124,167 for Nagasaki, and 10 persons who experienced both bombings.

Of Hiroshima’s survivors, 79 percent lived in Hiroshima Prefecture, of whom 98,102 (79%) resided in Hiroshima City. Comparable figures for Nagasaki survivors were 111,294 (89%) in its prefecture, with 96,582 (77%) living in the city.

Another useful accounting of survivors is those treated under the A-bomb Victims Medical Care Law (1957), which showed a gradual increase in those treated.


* Registered A-bomb victims: nationwide, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. (Impact, p.145)

2. Physical and mental suffering

Survivors suffered a wide variety of physical complaints and symptoms, as shown in a chart based on 1953 data.


*Observed complaints and symptoms among exposed survivors over 8-year period. (Impact, 147)

The main disorders detected by periodic health examinations of 11,470 ambulatory A-bomb survivors, as of 1971, are shown in Table 27.


*Case counts by disorder among total of treated survivors in Hiroshima. (Impact, 149)

The number of patients with serious diseases hospitalized in Hiroshima A-bomb Hospital in the period 1956–65 was 2,259, and over the years to 1974 the grand total was 5.350 (yearly average: 296). These cases covered a wide range of malignancies and various blood, endocrinological, digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological and renal diseases, as well as motor dysfunctions and sequelae due to foreign matter.

3. Marked forever

“The fate of all survivors is to live with the stigma that the atomic bomb stamped permanent marks on their minds and bodies.”

It imposed on them an abhorrent lifelong burden, one to live with yet try to overcome. One way of dealing with this burden was to write one’s own personal testimony about trying to get on with life.

I hated for people to stare at me…. Yet, every nerve in my body was attuned to the outside world; and to avoid even the slightest sinister look, I walked with a rigid on-guard posture…. Even so, I secluded myself at home and spent hours before the mirror, looking at my own face. What I saw was ugly hunks of flesh, like lava oozing from a crater wall, covering the left half of my face, with the eyebrow burned off and my eye pulled out of shape. My neck was pulled over to one side, and however much I tried to straighten it out, it wouldn't move back to the normal position. (Nakayama Shiro,Shi no kage [The Shadow of Death])

A boy in my class was burned by the flash;
   The hair was gone from half his head,
   It was slick as glass.
A younger student in a lower grade
   Was called "tempura, tempura"by all;
   He covered his face with one hand
   As he ran down the hall.
Someday they'll grow up, and . . .
   I thought,
   What will it be like then? ("Tempura"is deep-fried fish or vegetables)

* Both quotes from Impact, p. 152-53

4. Breakdown of families

Life differed somewhat in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki according to one’s residence or physical presence at bombing times, whether city center or surrounding zones.
A main concern for all was the rupture of household bonds due to loss of members, and also whether one’s residence was burned or demolished. Loss of parents or other household heads left both “A-bomb orphans” and “the orphaned elderly.”

5. A-bomb Orphans

It is not clear how many A-bomb orphans were in either city. People involved in helping some of them in Hiroshima reported “6,500 orphans” following the bombing. Estimates based on evacuation data (most children had been sent to the countryside during wartime) indicate between 4,000 and 5,000 orphans in Hiroshima. Records for Nagasaki are especially scarce. Some schools reported registered pupils without known living parents, yet many cried and called for their mothers.


*Two boys looking for their father soon after Nagasaki bombing. (Yamahata Yosuke)

The care of orphans wandering and loitering in the city, as well as those left in countryside evacuation sites, became an urgent problem. Teachers and Buddhists in Hiroshima took the lead in helping them in that city; in Nagasaki, the Roman Catholics made stellar efforts in the care of A-bomb orphans. Then in 1949, programs for financial support of some as “adopted” foster children was initiated by Norman Cousins in the U.S., and from 1952 by Arata Osada in Japan.

For teenagers in Hiroshima, Professor and Mrs. Seiichi Nakano formed the support group called Ayumi (“Moving on”) to provide counsel and support for these A-bomb orphans. Even so, many were beyond these helping hands; and while some managed to get along well in life, not a few succumbed to delinquency, sickness, and even suicide. Fortunately, this population group decreased over time; unlike the next, which increased as time passed.


*Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review of Literature and advocate of “moral adoption” visiting Ninoshima Orphanage near Hiroshima, January 9, 1951. (Chugoku, The Meaning of Survival, 91)

6. The orphaned elderlys

Thousands of older persons, whether they suffered the atomic bombings or escaped them by being evacuated to the countryside, lost spouses and children and thus had no one to depend upon. Their numbers increased with the passage of postwar years.

An October 1960 survey of A-bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed that victims age 70 and over were 6.6% of Hiroshima’s population and 5.8% of Nagasaki’s. The aged groups as a whole were only 1.4% in Hiroshima and 1.3% in Nagasaki. Some had employment or were self-employed; but many were without income sources. And many suffered illness or disability.

Of 31 suicides by A-bomb survivors nationwide in the five-year period 1970–75, Hiroshima Prefecture claimed 25, of whom 8 were orphaned elderly victims, for whom illness was the major motive.


*A-bomb orphans with elderly Catholic priest at Hiroshima Railroad Station, Jan. 10, 1946. (Impact, 158)


*An elderly couple living in a makeshift shack, November 1952. (Photo by Yuichiro Sasaki, in Impact, 159)

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