Tsutomu Yamaguchi: Survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb blasts

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was the only officially recognised survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb blasts at the end of the Second World War. Yamaguchi, however, was only formally acknowledged as an Eniijuu hibakusha (double bomb sufferer) by both the Nagasaki and Hiroshima authorities in March 2009.

On 6 August 1945, Yamaguchi, a young engineer with the shipbuilder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was in Hiroshima at the end of a short-term secondment with two colleagues. He recalled hearing engine noise in the skies above, but thought nothing of it as this was commonplace owing to Hiroshima's importance as an industrial city and military base. In fact, what he heard were the engines of the US B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, which was about to drop the first atomic bomb on the city. Seconds after getting off a tram he saw a flash of light and was knocked to the ground by the force of the bomb, and passed out as it detonated 600m above Hiroshima at just after 8.15am. He later recalled seeing a huge mushroom-shaped pillar of fire rising up high into the sky.

The "Little Boy" bomb, a reference to former President Roosevelt, was a 13 kiloton uranium atomic bomb which contained devastated an area of five square miles. Around 140,000 of Hiroshima's 350,000 population perished instantly and in the aftermath thousands more suffered burns, Yamaguchi among them. Though less than two miles from Ground Zero, he suffered only serious burns to his upper body and a perforated eardrum.

Yamaguchi spent the night in the city in an air-raid shelter with people dying and screaming out with pain all around him. The following day, Yamaguchi and his two colleagues navigated through the piles of burnt and dying bodies in order to catch a train the 180 miles back to their home, Nagasaki which, like Hiroshima, was an important industrial and military base. Upon his return and with his burns swathed in bandages, Yamaguchi reported for work on 9 August. His boss and co-workers listened with incredulity as he described how a single bomb had destroyed the city.

At 11.02am, and once again less than two miles from the centre, Yamaguchi saw a familiar flash of light. The US Airforce had dropped another nuclear device, "Fat Man", named after Winston Churchill. This time a 25-kiloton plutonium bomb exploded above Nagasaki, throwing Yamaguchi to the ground. As Nagasaki is surrounded by mountains the level of destruction was more confined; nearly 74,000 were killed and a similar number injured. Yamaguchi, his wife and baby son survived and spent the following week in a shelter near what was left of their home. On 14 August, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was born in Nagasaki on 14 March 1916. He studied engineering and joined Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a draftsman designing oil tankers at their shipyards in Nagasaki. After the war he worked for the US occupation authorities as a translator, became a school teacher and returned to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries before retirement.

Yamaguchi's two hellish experiences and their effect upon his family were considerable. As well as almost total deafness in one ear, his skin wounds were bandaged for 12 years, and his wife was poisoned from the radioactive fall-out. She died in 2008, aged 88, of kidney and liver cancer. Their son, exposed to the Nagasaki radiation at six months old, died in 2005, aged 59.

Much of this turned Yamaguchi into a passionate anti-nuclear weapons campaigner but he never expressed any anti-Americanism. He gave talks about his experiences and often expressed the hope that such weapons would be abolished: "I can't understand why the world cannot understand the agony of the nuclear bombs. How can they keep developing these weapons?" He wrote books and appeared in a documentary, Nijuuhibaku, [Twice Bombed, Twice Survived], which was screened at the Uniated Nations in New York in 2006, when he also addressed the UN, urging them to abolish nuclear weapons.

As a registered survivor of the Nagasaki bombing, Yamaguchi owned a pale violet copy of the Atomic Bomb Victim Health Handbook since 1957, which entitled him to monthly allowances, free medical check-ups and funeral costs. More than 260,000 others were similarly covered. In March 2009, Yamaguchi was finally certified by the Japanese government, and so acknowledged as having Eniijuu hibakusha status. "My double radiation exposure is now an official government record," he said. "It can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die."

Yamaguchi, who died of stomach cancer, viewed his ordeals as a cruel twist of fate, a "path planted by God". "It was my destiny that I experienced this twice and I am still alive to convey what happened," he said.

Martin Childs



Tsutomu Yamaguchi, engineer and atomic bomb survivor: born Nagasaki 16 March 1916; married (wife died 2008; one son deceased, one daughter), died Nagasaki 4 January 2010.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

Year 3 Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Junior Software Developer - Newcastle, Tyne & Wear - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer / J...

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering