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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Takashi Tanemori speaks at UC Davis


Tanemori relives Hiroshima attack

Takashi Tanemori, the only one of his family to survive the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Japan, came to UC Davis on March 10 to discuss his experience as well as life after the attack. The Davis College Democrats (DCD) hosted the event in Haring Hall and sold tickets to community members and students.

Nearing the end of World War II in 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs by plane over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, respectively. Between 70,000 and 80,000 people were killed from the impact and resulting fires, and another 70,000 were injured. The uranium’s radiation continues to travel inter-generationally.

Tanemori, lost his vision as a result of being 0.7 miles from the American military dropping the atomic bomb, and miraculously sustained no other radiation injuries or diseases. He painted a vivid image of the Hiroshima tragedy from his perspective as an 8-year-old on the schoolyard, retelling his entire story through sobs.

“That was the last memory,” Tanemori, who was joined by his guide dog, said. “I saw the flash in the sky, pure white. I’ve never seen white as white before — all the color was confiscated. I want you to put yourself in the room. All you see is white. You cannot find yourself in the pure whiteness. I do not know how long later, but then an explosion took place. All the sound of the universe converged, exploding. Then you begin to smell the heat. The whiteness turns into pitch darkness. Almost a split second. Then you begin to smell the heat. You cannot see it. You smell the heat coming closer and closer and closer. I begin to hear the cry of my classmates, ‘Takashi! I am burning!’”

Tanemori emotionally recalled how soldiers saved him from the fire-engulfed rubble of his decimated school.

“I saw the reddish, orange, yellow, bluish fires leaping just like serpents,” Tanemori said. “And I cried ‘Daddy, come and help me.’ Somehow, these Japanese soldiers were on the campus. They came and they dug me out. One of the soldiers took me in his arms and he clutched me. He took me from the debris and went through the streets filled with fires.”

He spoke of an injured man on the brink of death and a woman carrying her deceased babies that he encountered while soldiers transported him to safety.

“[The injured man] said ‘Sir,’” Tanemori said. “I’m sorry — I can hear his voice right now in my mind. He said, ‘Sir, give me some water. Please.’ He was unrecognizable. And the soldier shook his head, and the man grabbed him and said ‘Sir, put me out of my misery.’ But the soldier moved on. I cannot erase this from my mind, my heart. There was a woman calling her children by name, as she passed by, just about two feet from the front of us. I saw the babies, she was carrying on her back. I wonder what she thought about this war. Why the United States and Japan had to fight, had taken my babies?”

Ten years later, Tanemori went through the legal citizenship process into America but was exploited by those who coordinated his travel. He ended up in California’s Delano migrant labor camp. Tanemori explained the value of proper treatment of immigrants and refugees as well as spoke of the injustices that happen to immigrants, even those who are legal.  

“18 years old, I thought I must go to America to avenge my father’s death,” Tanemori said. “Then 18 years old, June 24, I came to America without any penny in my pocket. All I knew was [I was] hungry. I trusted the Japanese man who told me America is a good Christian nation. I’m still glad I came to honor my heart. In the migrant camp, it doesn’t matter those who came through proper immigration channels or not. I was told America was a great, Christian nation, and to be brought to the migrant labor camp — it’s worse than seppuku [samurai ritual suicide].”

At the labor camp, Tanemori was poisoned by the staff feeding him food that he didn’t know was deliberately old and filthy.

“It was spoiled, and I got food poisoning,” Tanemori said. “I didn’t know any English and the next six months, they transferred me from hospital to hospital.”

Although doctors and nurses did not help him, he eventually befriended a woman who became his guardian, taking him out of hospital and mental ward care.

Tanemori carried resentment and was “anti-American” for a long while until he remembered his father telling him “revenge gets revenge,” which instilled in him a spirit of forgiveness and unity. Before his father died, he once told him, “‘The greatest way to avenge your enemy is by learning to forgive.’”

Tanemori finished his talk by explaining his road to making peace with America and forgiving the suffering inflicted on him. From the pain, Tanemori analogized how he discovered an opportunity for growth, understanding and selflessness.

“Lotus flower will not grow in the clean water,” Tanemori said. “They always grow in the dirty, muddy waters. Through this, comes out a beautiful flower. When you realize the life you have today, the air you breath, it’s a gift, a lotus. Isn’t that wonderful? The world gave me such terrible, horrible events in my own personal life. But through this, here I am standing before you, sharing with you the gift. My daddy said, ‘My son. A true samurai is always finding the way to live for the benefits of others first, then you benefit.’”

Tanemori delivered his talk for about 45 minutes before offering a period for students and community members in the audience to ask questions. Haring Hall contained about 70 students and community members.  

Haoyuan Li, a second-year materials science and engineering major, attended the event to learn about the Japanese reaction to the Hiroshima attack.

“[I was] interested in the historical facts that happened in Japan and also how the Japanese people reacted after the accident happened,” Haoyuan said. “Or, we shouldn’t call it ‘an accident’ — a tragedy.”

Christian Monsees, the director of finance for DCD, a coordinator of the event and a third-year political science major, tied together Tanemori’s talk and the modern American political trajectory.

“We were absolutely thrilled and honored to have Takashi Tanemori,” Monsees said. “Mr. Tanemori spent this time to talk not only about his experience on that day but also how he learned to forgive the United States despite all the anger, rage and hatred that he had for our country. Unfortunately, we now live in a country where anger and hatred are very relevant to modern day politics. This event is incredibly significant as a learning lesson of how we can improve ourselves based on the historical past. It’s always important to look to history when you’re making policy. Even though this event was apolitical, I still think it was very relevant to politics.”


Written by: Aaron Liss  — campus@theaggie.org


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