IJS/JASCO Lecture: Michiko Yamaoka, “My Hiroshima Legacy: An A-Bomb Story of My Mother and Aunt” (Campus) – September 3rd (4:00pm – 5:00pm)

Michiko Yamaoka (aka Miko) is a native Japanese citizen who had her own close family directly impacted by the Hiroshima bombing that took place August 6th, 1945. This bombing was a devastating tragedy that impacted her mother/aunt and she wanted to share their story and the story of others impacted by this tragic event.

A few years before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing, the United States and Japan were on opposing sides of World War 2 and had ill will towards each other. Miko explained that tensions arose when Japan had launched their Pearl Harbour attack and the United States retaliated with an air strike on Tokyo, Japan’s capital. “This air strike by the United States was very devastating for the Japanese people,” Miko mentioned, because the morale in Japan became low and the citizens started to realize that their country is in fact vulnerable to air strikes and other air attacks.

Leading up to the bombing, the United States and Japan began developing many technological advances to use against each other. One of Japan’s major war weapons was the use of Kamikaze pilots. These pilots were given targets, usually ships manned by opposing countries, and they would deliberately crash into them risking their lives. “These kamikaze pilots did what they did because they believed they were doing good for Japan. They thought their sacrifice was for the sake of the country and that their life being risked was worth it for the advancement of Japan in the future,” Miko explained to us. 

The United States were also making their own developments at this time. They were working to create a massive and devastating atomic/nuclear bomb that could destroy an entire city. The U.S. worked intricately and carefully to create these bombs and even went through many trials and errors before discovering the final product of “fat man” and “little boy”, the two bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th. They also went through many meetings to decide which cities to drop these bombs, narrowing their list to 17 cities across the Japanese archipelago before deciding to go with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“On August 6th, 1945, my mother was in her house 1 mile away from the epicenter of the bomb’s target. My mother’s sister was a few blocks east of the epicenter in a building. My mother was 20 at the time and my mother’s sister was 14 and like everyone else they had no idea of the devastation that was to come.” Miko said that her mother looked out the window just minutes after the bomb was dropped and all she could see was black smoke and red fire surrounding the entire city of Hiroshima. “She ran around the destroyed city looking for her younger sister amongst the heat rays and radiation but it did not stop her. There were bodies everywhere and they all were begging for water due to the massive heat.” Miko saidwhat caused her great pain was that she could not give these people water and that their bodies were burned to the point of no recognition. Her mother could not make out her sister from the many bodies and she was broken apart until she was told she was on an island right off of the shore of Hiroshima. “My mother went to the island and called out to her sister and heard a faint voice answer back in the medical hold where many of the survivors were being held. She was so happy and brought her sister back home but she unfortunately died two days later due to the radiation within her.”

Miko told us that although this devastation was so horrible and brought much pain to the people of Japan, she wanted us to know that the people of Japan hold no ill will towards America for this but instead war is the thing the Japanese people hate. I loved the message she left us with that “hatred and violence only brings suffering and if we all spread love and happiness to one another, jealousy and war will not arise.” I am very happy I attended this talk since I got much insight that I didn’t have and I gained the perspective of someone who was impacted by this horrific event.