2023年9月27日水曜日

TRAUMATIC MEMORIES FADE IN FUKUSHIMA AREA HIT BY ' MOCK A-BOMB '

TRAUMATIC MEMORIES FADE IN FUKUSHIMA AREA HIT BY ' MOCK A-BOMB '

@Jackie San


As Japan inched closer to defeat in World War II, a bomb dropped by the U.S. military as part of training exercises ahead of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took the life of a local boy in a district on the outskirts of Fukushima.


The "mock atomic bombing" occurred in Watari which was just one of several locations bombs were tested in Japan. Although far less devastating than the actual A-bomb attacks, they left a lasting impression on local residents.


Despite the trauma caused by the bomb test in the northeastern Japan area, as the years pass and people move on and age the memories have begun to fade.


On the morning of July 20, 1945, Michi Saito, then 18, heard a shocking roar at the entrance of her family's home as she prepared to leave for the day's farm work and was thrown backward by an explosion.


Picking herself up, she saw a black plume of smoke billowing up from the rice field where her brother Takao had been working and rushed over to him. She found the 14-year-old with a fatal wound to his abdomen.


Saito lost most of the hearing in her right ear in the incident.


The siblings' father found a large bomb fragment several days later. Whenever he would see it, he would kick it out of rage. But after about a decade, he entrusted it to Zuiryu-ji, a Buddhist temple in Watari where it remains today.


"I think he believed that if he left it at the temple, Takao's soul could rest in peace from the daily chanting of Buddhist sutras," Saito, now 96, said.


There are few people remaining who remember the atomic bombing test run. But Saito still suffers from the guilt of having survived the explosion which killed her young brother.


Suguru Saito, an 87-year-old local historian who shares the family's name but is not related, was at an elementary school a few hundred meters away from the bomb site. He and other students evacuated to a shelter after the air raid alarm blared and there they heard the blast.


He remembers the incident in his hometown as of one of the tragedies of the war.


Between July 20 and Aug 14 1945, the U.S. special forces dropped 49 conventional, non-nuclear explosive bombs on 18 prefectures as target training for planned nuclear attacks, including seven in Aichi Prefecture the day before Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender. The explosions killed more than 400 people.


At about 4.5 tons, the mock atomic bombs weighed about the same as "Fat Man," the plutonium core atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9. It was called a "pumpkin bomb" due to its rounded shape and orange color.


Investigations into the bombing test runs were prompted by the publication in 1991 of an analysis of U.S. military records by an Aichi citizens' group.


In the early summer of 2023, the 78th year since the war's end, Suguru took Kyodo News to the explosion site of the mock atomic bomb. Green rice plants gently swayed in the wind in the paddies, which partially remain in a residential area.


According to Suguru, there had been talk of building a memorial for Takao at the site of the explosion in the 1960s, but the plan never gained momentum due to opposition from local residents who believed doing so would only "tarnish the town's image."


Another, more recent, nuclear-related incident did tarnish the town's image, though. On March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear plant disaster occurred, devastating northeastern Japan including Fukushima.


Later, in Watari, about 60 kilometers from the plant, higher doses of radiation were detected than the city average, and the district was designated a "hot spot."


Although Watari was never designated as an evacuation zone, there are some residents who voluntarily evacuated to places outside of Fukushima Prefecture and have yet to return.


In fiscal 2022, the average radiation dosage levels in the district were lower than the government's standard for decontamination of 0.23 microsieverts per hour.


Nowadays, residents in Watari rarely speak of either the bombing incident or the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.


"It is inevitable because of the concern over possible reputational damage," said Suguru. But he still thinks the memories of what happened, especially to the local boy, should be chronicled as important moments in the area's history.

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@Jackie San

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