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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair