Thursday, November 17, 2016

Another Way The Bomb Killed Japanese

Mie man learns mother, brother killed by test run for atomic bomb

The Asahi Shimbun  by TOMOAKI ITO/ Senior Staff Writer  November 17, 2016

A portrait of the Ibaraki family around 1939. From left: Father, grandfather, Masakatsu, mother Fusako and brother Keigo. (Provided by Masakatsu Ibaraki)

YOKKAICHI, Mie Prefecture--For 71 years, Masakatsu Ibaraki had been trying to forget about the U.S. bomb that killed his mother and younger brother. He believed the quiet farming area was just the unlucky site where the Americans dumped a leftover bomb on their way back from an air raid.

Now 80 years old, Ibaraki learned that the bombing was not a random act. It was a practice run for one of the most important events of the 20th century.

Ibaraki on Aug. 16 read articles about a local historian who had indicated that the Tomarimura district in Yokkaichi city, Mie Prefecture, was hit by an atomic bomb mock-up on the morning of July 24, 1945.

From July 20 to Aug. 14 in 1945, the United States dropped 49 atomic bomb mock-ups in Tokyo and 17 prefectures, killing about 400 people.

The Americans were using replicas that were filled with ordinary explosive but were shaped like and weighed the same--4.5 tons--as the Fat Man plutonium bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.

Masakatsu Ibaraki, left, and Kanji Hayakawa (Tomoaki Ito)

These mock-ups were used to improve the accuracy of the real atomic weapons that they would later use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The historian was Kanji Hayakawa, 56, a teacher at Yokkaichi’s public elementary school. He had been researching where the mock-up bomb landed and how much damage it caused in the district. But details of the bomb were never properly documented or printed, unlike two other mock-ups dropped on Yokkaichi on Aug. 8, 1945.

After checking Yokkaichi city documents and interviewing residents, Hayakawa identified Tomarimura as the point of impact of the bombing.

From there, he heard accounts from some of the neighbors.

Hayakawa’s findings were printed in the Aug. 16 issue of The Asahi Shimbun’s Nagoya edition, but he was still having trouble finding the names of those who died in the blast.

He later found a witness account of the bombing in a memoir published about 40 years ago to describe the wartime experience in Mie Prefecture.

“The bomb looked like an upside-down black umbrella,” the description read. The time and place mentioned in the memoir also matched the testimonies Hayakawa and others had collected in the district.

Through the family of the memoir’s author, Hayakawa finally managed to contact Ibaraki and learn about the horror of that bomb.

Just before the bombing, 9-year-old Ibaraki, his 29-year-old mother, Fusako, 8-year-old brother Keigo, and two younger siblings came to Tomarimura to visit his father during the school summer holiday.

The father was working for the Imperial Japanese Navy, which used to have a fuel depot in Yokkaichi.

He was in charge of managing truck drivers, and lived in official accommodations in the district away from his family.

During the war, the mother and her children took refuge in a village that used to be called Misugi. The couple was originally from that village.

Ibaraki was with his father by a vegetable garden in front of the wooden home in Tomarimura when he heard the loud sound of something hurtling toward the ground.

The mock-up bomb exploded on the bank of a reservoir dozens of meters from the house.

His father rushed inside the building, then yelled at Ibaraki, “Wait outside.”

However, Ibaraki also rushed into the house and saw that his mother’s neck had been broken by bomb fragments that had flown into the building. Other fragments had pierced Keigo’s stomach.

Ibaraki’s 6-year-old brother and 1-year-old sister were also in the building, but they somehow escaped unhurt.

Some bomb shards found stuck in the bank measured 40 centimeters and were quite heavy.

The family held a vigil for the victims in the broken building with just five or so colleagues of his father. Ibaraki sat there quietly and listened to the chant of a Buddhist sutra.

Ibaraki said he was impressed by Hayakawa’s efforts to investigate the 71-year-old incident. He showed the historian photos of his mother and brother.

However, Ibaraki said calmly, “Still, nothing will change now.”

But Hayakawa believes the true story can make a difference.

“With specific details of the damage, the story will have a strong impact on people. I would like to make the most of the tragedy in teaching about peace,” Hayakawa said.

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