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Hiroshima's Legacy: the Story Of One Japanese Family

Motoko Sakama lives in Tokyo. Her father was the mayor of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the day an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on that city. This account of her family's experience was published in the August 1967 edition of Fujin no Tomo, a well-respected monthly magazine aimed at women, and appears here for the first time in English. LOOKING BACK AT HIROSHIMA

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I spent three days taking care of my mother, and she recovered enough to sew a pair of the cotton pants that women wore during the war. She thought she would be able to return to Tokyo after resting for a while. Since she said she felt sorry for my husband in the hospital, I decided to return to Kobe. As I was leaving, my mother looked lonely but made me norimaki sushi and saw me off at the entrance of the hospital. It was her last thoughtful gift to me.

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I wrote a detailed letter about my mother to one of my two younger sisters who had returned from Niigata to Tokyo and was worried about Hiroshima. At my request, my sister went to Hiroshima on Aug. 30 to take my mother to Tokyo. Although my sister wrote to me that she was worried about my mother's physical condition, I believed that my mother would recover eventually.

My mother was very pleased at my sister's arrival and thanked her for coming. They spent the day in endless conversations. But the following day my mother's condition suddenly began to deteriorate. Three days later, she developed symptoms of what was came to be called atomic bomb disease.

When I rushed to her again, she was almost unconscious. The only thing I could do for her was to prepare herb tea and cool her with ice I obtained several kilometers from the hospital. She died on Sept. 7.

All administrative functions were still paralyzed in Hiroshima, and we had to dispose of my mother's body ourselves. We asked strangers for firewood and, together with my sister and aunts, I borrowed a large cart and transported my mother's body to a nearby field . Long trenches had been dug for the many corpses that were brought in daily. We arranged the firewood inside a hole, gently put my mother's body there, and built a fire.

I wonder how many times we hesitated to do so. ''Is there anything as miserable as this?'' I recall saying in tears to my sister that day. We reserved some of her remains for a proper funeral ceremony.

On Sept. 10, after saying goodbye to those who helped us in Hiroshima, my sister and I left in an autumn rain, taking with us four small boxes of bones.

Totally exhausted, I returned to my husband at the Kobe hospital. I wondered how my husband felt when he saw the remains of his daughter come back to him in a box a month after she went to Hiroshima.

Saying that it was a result of my parents' kind offer, he did not complain, but I felt very sorry for him and full of anguish myself.

About that time, my sister began to feel unwell. I sympathized with her trying to return to the capital alone, and I decided to accompany her to our Tokyo home, which had survived the air raids.

Dedication of a dear sister

The house was empty and quiet when its owner and his family returned as bones. Upon our arrival in Tokyo, my sister went to bed. As she was usually extremely healthy, I expected she would be recovering soon. I therefore left her in the care of my grandmother and returned to Kobe.

Our Kobe house was burned down, and I rented a house in Arima, near Kobe, from a kind acquaintance. I took my husband there from the hospital after he recovered.

After three weeks thinking about what to do next, we received an unexpected telegram telling us that my sister, Yasuko, was ill. I hurried to her and was shocked to see her so weak.

Looking back, I assume that my sister was influenced indirectly by the atomic bombing while she was taking care of my mother.

She was exposed to much radiation for about 10 days in Hiroshima, especially when taking care of things at the house, so near the site of the bombing.

I strongly hoped that with my sister's strength as a young woman she would recover. With our financial situation slightly better than when we were caring for my mother, we hired a nurse and did our best.

But the food supply at the time was worse than during the war. We gave her whatever food we could obtain, but she became increasingly weak.

Yasuko was the brightest and most sensitive of my brothers and sisters. She was liked by many of the friends she made in her school days, from elementary school through a post-senior high school.