For Japanese Family, No Touch of Bitterness
At memorial ceremonies for the bombing, Motoko Sakama and loved ones recall succeeding occasions of American thoughtfulness. LOOKING BACK AT HIROSHIMA
HIROSHIMA, JAPAN — I should say at the outset that Motoko Sakama is my landlady.
Shortly after I moved into the top half of the 60-year-old Western-style house that Mrs. Sakama owns in Tokyo, she and her husband invited me downstairs to dinner. Over a gracious and friendly meal, I discovered that her father had been the mayor of Hiroshima at the end of World War II when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city.
Her father and daughter died in the blast, and her mother and a sister were both dead by the end of 1945, apparently from the effects of radiation. The Sakamas' two-year-old daughter was staying with her grandparents in Hiroshima at the time.
As Sakama writes in her account of her family's experience, published in this newspaper last week, ''Little Ayako probably died being hugged by my father.''
Since our introduction 15 months ago, Sakama and I have had several opportunities to discuss what she calls ''those sad days.'' Each time she has expressed her appreciation that she has had such friendly relationships with Americans during the past 50 years.
''I don't hate Americans. I hate the war,'' she says.
On the weekend of Aug. 6, Sakama and several members of her family traveled to Hiroshima to attend the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the bomb. A few hours after the event, I met them in the airy tea lounge of their hotel, a modern affair where Japan's prime minister was also staying.
They were a party of seven, all wearing black, and most of the immediate discussion about the ceremony concerned the hot weather. It is a Japanese convention to begin letters and conversations with references to nature, but in this case heat had special relevance.
The annual commemoration is traditionally short and somber. There is a minute's pause at 8:15 a.m., when the bomb exploded.
This year, two birds traversed the hazy sky as approximately 60,000 people fell silent. In the August heat, one could not help but imagine the searing burst of a second sun directly overhead.
Differing American views
Some Americans approach Hiroshima with trepidation. The recent controversy over the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit about the ''Enola Gay,'' the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, indicates that Americans are not of one mind about the event.
Edward Dougherty is a former college instructor from Ohio who has lived in Hiroshima for two years as the co-director of a guest house where foreigners and Japanese come to learn about the bombing. He has witnessed many Americans' visits to Hiroshima and the exhibits at the city's Peace Memorial Museum that detail the effects of the bomb.
''When you walk in, it breaks your heart,'' he says. ''The feeling is - and it's true - 'My God, we bombed kids.' ''
But it's equally common that Americans come away from Hiroshima without detecting any anger from city residents.
''Honestly speaking,'' says Hiroshi Hara, who was 13 years old when the bomb killed many of his school mates, ''there was tremendous hatred of the US immediately after the A-bomb, but not now.''
''The survivors and the citizens of Hiroshima,'' he adds, ''are not interested in blaming the US for things past.''
Sakama shares this attitude. ''I've never regarded America as an enemy,'' she explains, ''partly because of American support after the war, which helped us rebuild this country.'' More important have been her encounters with individuals.
About five years after the war, she and her husband were introduced to an American couple working in Tokyo as part of the US occupation forces.
''Food was really hard to get in those days,'' Sakama says, ''and they would come to the house and and bring butter and sugar and other staples. We were so grateful.
''They were aware of our sad history and I can't help but think that's one reason why they were so kind to us. ... We enjoyed being with them. He was a soldier, but I could never have hated him.''
Years later, Sakama's sister Chikako received a college scholarship from an anonymous American donor. She later traveled to the US to find her benefactor.
Chikako discovered that the source of the generosity, Sakama says, was ''an elderly woman, living a frugal life. My sister was so surprised. There are many kind American people, and one of them was that woman.''
Never to forget
Sitting in the hotel lounge, Sakama described her thoughts during the ceremony. ''I recalled those sad days after the war and that I never could have imagined that this day would come.'' The bomb left her responsible for two younger siblings, who have married and lead contented lives. They and their spouses, and one of their children, had also come to Hiroshima.
''I'm so moved to be here with them now,'' she said. Then Sakama repeated something she had said to me several times on other occasions: ''We must not forget what happened in World War II. We must hand down the facts to coming generations and let them know that the peace we now enjoy has been obtained at the sacrifice of those on both sides of the Pacific.''
Sakama's house in Tokyo was built by her father, a Christian who spoke English and German and who was well-versed in Western art and thought. The exterior is vaguely Tudor, with a stucco finish. There are Japanese touches - tatami rooms and a cherry tree in the garden - and the combination represents a marriage of cultures.
I remember leaving my first dinner with the Sakamas more than a year ago. Learning that my country had been responsible for the death of my landlady's father, mother, sister, and daughter had made for memorable if somewhat awkward conversation.
I thought of my own father, who was an American soldier in the Pacific when the war ended and who would have been part of a US invasion force of Japan.
As I rounded the walk to go up the outdoor stairway to my half of the house, my eye fell upon my mailbox. It is a standard-issue ''U.S. Mail'' model, the kind that is such a common sight on so many suburban streets in the US.
Recently I asked Sakama about the mailbox, and she says no great thought went into its selection. She once had a clothing boutique where the mailbox was part of the window display. When the boutique closed, she thought the mailbox would be useful at home.
For me it symbolizes the reconciliation that has gone on in Sakama's house.