Francis Mitsuo Tomosawa was interviewed by Scholastic students in May 2000.
Are you glad that you moved to Japan, or do you wish that you had stayed in Hawaii for the war?
Well, my parents didn't have any inkling that the war would start that's why they sent us to Japan. But in hindsight, I, myself, wish that I had not gone to Japan.
Was it hard living in Japan without your father?
Not necessarily. Before the war, things were okay. My father stayed back in Hawaii so he could work to send money to support us. But as soon as the war started, he couldn't send any money to us. We couldn't communicate for many years. My mother had to go to work then and it was very difficult for her. It was difficult for all of us.
What was life in America like for your father? Did he have to go to an internment camp?
Fortunately, my father was in Hawaii, where Japanese nationals, permanent residents, or those who were born U.S. citizens were not all interned like those in California. So, he was able to continue his life as before the war, though in a sort of limited way. He didn't have as much freedom as before the war, but otherwise, things remained the same.
How did you feel about school ending and having to go to work in the factory when you were 13?
Well, we didn't have any choice. The government ordered all students from seventh grade up to be mobilized to work in a factory, or on farms, or in offices, because of the lack of manpower. In some schools, the students were mobilized to make fire lanes they had to dismantle a row of houses, leave one intact, and then dismantle another, to keep any potential fires from spreading. That's what was going on in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. These students were making fire lanes, and so were in the city, close to ground zero. And the boys had their shirts off. Almost all were instantly killed or disintegrated. Or they died afterwards, just like one of my best friends.
We are reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Sadako gets radiation poisoning and then dies of cancer at the age of 12. Did you get any radiation sickness or medical problems from the bomb blast?
I'm sure I received a large dose of radiation because the day the bomb was dropped I worked in a nearby hospital, and helped many people who were burned by the radiation. I'm sure I received a dosage of radiation then, but fortunately I haven't come down with any effects of the radiation yet. Though that doesn't mean that I won't later.
My grandfather was walking guard duty on Okinawa when the atomic bomb was dropped. He said it seemed like the sky was moving. What did the sky look like to you?
At the moment before the bomb exploded, I was watching the parachutes that were dropped from the B29. Then the bomb exploded, and a brilliant light surrounded me. I couldn't see anything. Then I looked back in the direction where the bomb had fallen, and I saw the mushroom cloud. I don't remember seeing any blue sky it had been a clear day but after the bomb, there was all this debris in the air, and I didn't see any sky.
How long did it take before the people in Hiroshima found out what had actually happened to them?
We didn't know what type of bomb it was we knew only it wasn't the usual type of bomb. I don't remember exactly, but I think it was probably two or three weeks, or even a month, after the war ended, that the newspapers reported that it had been an atomic bomb. We knew that the bomb had been dropped by the U.S. because we had seen it drop from the B29.
What was it like living in Hiroshima after the bombing? How did you get food or water?
Well, before the war ended, everything was rationed. We had a very small amount of food, clothing, and so forth. Even after the war was over, the supply of food and clothing was very limited. As a 15 year old, I remember almost always being hungry, and wearing tattered or patched-up clothes. All around us houses were burned or destroyed, and people were burned or suffering from the atomic bombing. We just had to make do with whatever was available. There was a black market, but without enough money, you couldn't buy the food. Regular stores didn't have food, except for the supply routes for the rationing. Even after the war, the rationing went on for a while. I remember going out to the farmland away from the city to get food. Farmers wouldn't accept money because it had no value. So, we had to exchange clothing or anything of value with the farmers even an expensive kimono. But then they wouldn't take that. I remember walking around farms the whole day to secure some food. It was a very difficult life for at least a year or so. But then gradually, it started getting better.
How did the people of Hiroshima treat one another after the bomb was dropped?
I saw everyone helping each other. Though right after the bomb exploded, during the confusion and pain and suffering and dying, people's instincts told them to save themselves. People under the buildings would ask for help and the passersby couldn't hear the cry for help or they didn't stop for help. So, many people died by fire because nobody would help them. But after that, after 30 minutes or an hour, people came in from outside the city to help all day and all night. I guess this showed the good part of human beings. Many people didn't eat or drink. Everyone tried to help each other within the city. This helping continued for weeks and months and years until the city was rebuilt enough so that people could get on with their normal lives. Even by the time I left three years later, I still saw many people helping each other. But because of the radiation and the lack of medical supplies, people continued to die and we couldn't do anything to help them. Even the doctors couldn't do anything. We did our best, but it was still very frustrating.
When did people first become aware that there was a danger of radiation exposure?
Unfortunately, as history indicates, the U.S. occupational forces hid the truth about the danger of radiation so that we didn't know about the danger for many, many months I think for even over a year. In fact, I don't remember hearing about the danger of radiation until I came back to the U.S. in 1948. And my friends hadn't heard about it. That's why many people stayed in Hiroshima, which compounded the effects of the radiation. Since people stayed, they got more and more contaminated. The danger of radiation decreased as time went by, but for example, we heard that plants were not going to grow again for a long time, but we were never told the scientific reason. We didn't know if it was true or just a rumor that plants and grass were not going to grow in Hiroshima for another 75 years.
Why do you think the experiences of atomic bomb survivors were different than those of other wartime bombing victims?
Well, we must realize that many scientists have said that the aftereffects of atomic bombs are unique when compared to the effects and injury of other kinds of conventional bombs. In conventional bombings, if someone is hurt but survives, they heal and that's it, they've survived. The atomic bomb, though, is different because of the radiation it creates, and the effects from that continue for many years. For example, that's why survivors come down with cancer. My mother developed cancer at the exact, tiny spot on her neck where she was burned by the radiation on the day of the bombing. Unfortunately, the cancer spread and she died but 24 years later. This is what we must realize for a second nuclear war that even those who survive initially will probably die from the bombs many years later. And I mean not a natural death. It's this difference Japan as a nation has recognized and even stated in a law that established completely free medical care to atomic bomb survivors in Japan. Another difference is the size of the destruction. A friend of mine was in Osaka, which had been destroyed with conventional bombs and he didn't see that many dead people in the city. But when he came back to Hiroshima, he saw hundreds and thousands of bodies all over the city. The destruction from the atomic bomb was so huge. There just wasn't time enough to remove the bodies.
Did you ever think about staying in Japan instead of coming back to America?
I did think about it because my best friends were in Japan at that time, as they are today. Many people should realize that when you go through such hardship with people as we did in those times, that you get a lot closer to those people. But I wanted to see my father. Remember, I hadn't seen him for seven years. And most of all, I was a U.S. citizen. The U.S. was my country, so I wanted to return to Hawaii.
Once you moved back after the war, were you ever discriminated against by Americans?
Not in an overt way, but in a very subtle way, there were many instances of discrimination what people said or did. Not anything large-scale, but still, I could feel it and see it. In the army during the Korean War, I didn't see any clearcut discrimination, although I did hide my past history. I don't know what would have happened if anybody had known that much about me. I don't think they knew I had lived in Japan because I never volunteered the information.
Was it difficult to participate in the U.S. Army after having experienced the U.S. military's destruction of Japan?
Yes it was. Several years earlier, I got to believe in Christianity and because of my experience in Japan, I was opposed to the war. I had a choice of either resisting and being thrown into jail, or serving as a regular soldier, or serving as a conscientious objector. I felt I needed to serve, so I served as a conscientious objector.
Have you been back to Hiroshima since the war? How did it make you feel?
The first time I went back after the atomic bomb was in the later part of 1953, when I was in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. It was about eight years after the bomb had dropped and the city had still not fully recovered. About 40 percent was not even rebuilt yet maybe 40 or 50 percent. Being there reminded me of what had happened on that day eight years before. I didn't go back again until 1987, 32 years later. At that time, I was surprised because the city had completely recovered. Many paper or wooden houses had been rebuilt by 1987. Except the dome the Atomic Dome was left as a memorial to remind us of what the atomic bomb did. It had originally been like a chamber of commerce building with various offices related to business in Hiroshima. It had a round roof and was a unique building in Hiroshima I'm not sure what style. It is the only building that has remained as it was after the bomb. So in 1987, I was happy to see the city recovered. But then I did find that some of my friends had died over the years from the radiation effects.
Can you think of anything good that came out of the Hiroshima bombing?
No, I can't think of anything good. Even the demonstration of human love in the way people worked so hard to help each other, even that I think we could demonstrate in other circumstances. I think when so many civilians die from a war like that, no good can come out of it. Some people say that because the bomb was dropped, we now know how powerful it is and we won't use it again. But we could have learned this in other ways. So, no, I don't think any good was achieved when they dropped that bomb. Especially when they dropped a second bomb.
Do you think it would have been better if the U.S. hadn't dropped the bomb and had attacked Japan like it attacked Germany?
Definitely, given hindsight, it would have been better if the U.S. had not dropped the bomb. I think the U.S. wanted to stop the war, but it also wanted to test the effects of the atomic bomb, to see what would happen. I met Dr. Oppenheimer, one of the scientists who developed the bomb, probably about 1965, and he told me he was sorry the bomb was dropped. He was sorry he didn't oppose it, and he was shocked by the huge number of people who were killed by the atomic bomb. There was, I think, an alternative to end the war. I think anybody who studies history would understand that Japan was simply in no condition to continue the war. The U.S. forces could have blockaded Japan and within six months, Japan would have given up. The majority of Japanese people who I knew and saw in Hiroshima did not want to continue the war. The people around the emperor were negotiating for peace, and the only condition they asked of the Allied forces was the safety of the emperor. But the U.S. and their allies refused they wanted the unconditional surrender of Japan. But then after the war, during the Occupation, they did protect the emperor from being prosecuted as a war criminal. So, the Allied forces protected the emperor anyway! If they had accepted the condition, I think the war probably would have ended a year earlier and saved hundreds of thousands of lives and I mean not just of Japanese, but everyone who was participating in the war.
To what do you credit the positive relationship that Japan and the U.S. share today?
I believe one reason is because, in a selfish way, it was good economically for the U.S. to help Japan and work together it was good for both countries, really and this I don't necessarily think is a bad thing in itself. But more importantly, I think that after the war, the people in Japan and in the U.S. have come to realize not all people of course, but many of them that war is not the way to settle things and we must pursue other avenues of achieving what we want, whether it is world peace or prosperity. So that's one reason why relations between the two countries have improved. But I still see some incidents where one side is being selfish and not giving in especially Japan, since I think they are too protective of their commerce. I think the Japanese government is still unfair to the U.S. in trade, though there have been big improvements, compared to where things were many years ago.
What kinds of things does the Committee for Atomic Bomb Survivors do?
The Committee is a group of actual survivors from the atomic bombings, and we disseminate information anything to do with the aftereffects of radiation to our members. Unfortunately, there are about 1,000 survivors in the U.S. and Canada, but not all will join our group. Many of the survivors who don't join are afraid even if we promise them privacy they are afraid their information will be taken by the insurance companies. There are cases where survivors have lost their insurance, especially their medical insurance, because the companies learn of their past and then claim that the health problems they have are all due to the atomic bomb, so then the companies don't have to pay. The Committee also has a small amount of funds that we get from donations and we use it to help any survivors who can't afford the care that they need. We try to help them in some small way. We also have a fund from the U.S. and from people in Japan, and this is used to send some survivors back to Hiroshima or Nagasaki so they can have comprehensive care there. So, these are the things that we try to do for each other.
Do you think a nuclear bomb could be dropped today?
Yes, I believe so. From what I see in the world, it may not be today or tomorrow, but within the near future. I think somewhere it will be dropped. I don't think it will be a major power like the U.S. or China, but maybe a smaller country, like Iran or Iraq.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to help the world peace effort?
Well, I believe that first of all, war starts from individual relationships. If we have racial prejudice or if we hate our neighbors, these feelings have a way of building upon themselves, so that personal feelings grow into public feelings, and public feelings affect the country's leaders. So what starts out as a problem between two people becomes a problem between two countries. We need then to believe that every life is important. And if someone wants to help the world peace effort, it's with individual relationships where they should start. I also think that we must participate in the political process namely, in the elections. We must cast our vote for the politicians who want to establish world peace. As individuals and as members of organizations like churches or other peace groups, we need to make sure that we speak out for peace. If anyone hears any leader or other group saying things that would not be helpful for peace, we need to speak out or make our organizations speak out about them. I don't see this sort of effort going on in the U.S., or even in Japan, and I think it is very important. I think we must be ready to speak out if we want peace for ourselves or for our children. We need to care for each other, no matter who the other person is.
Mr. Tomosawa, thank you for sharing your story with us. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to convey to the students that although I am pessimistic about the future, and that I do think another nuclear bomb will be used sometime and another war will start, that I also believe we cannot lose hope for world peace. We must continue to work at world peace. We must care for each other, no matter the reason. Think of yourself and your family and friends and work for peace. If we have another nuclear war, millions will die and hundreds of millions will be affected. And we are the only ones who can prevent this. We must care for each other, even if we cannot love each other, even if we might dislike someone. We must not hurt anyone physically or emotionally by spreading vicious rumors. If we can care for each other, I think we can achieve world peace. The experience of the atomic bomb blast in Japan and the Holocaust and other tragedies of the war, many people would say about them "let's forget, it's too horrible," but we must talk and hear about these tragedies so we don't forget what war can cause. And one last thing: I have heard some people say that the Japanese people deserved the atomic bomb, that they deserved to die horribly because of what they did at Pearl Harbor or because the Japanese army participated in the massacre in Nanking, China. I believe that what the Japanese military did was wrong, but the second wrong does not make it correct. So, we must not make that an excuse or reason for killing hundreds of thousands of people. If we conduct ourselves in revenge, we will never eliminate war in this world. What terrorists in the world today are doing is all about revenge "the U.S. killed my family and so now I'm going to hijack this plane and explode it" this is about revenge. And if we do things for revenge, we are then the same as the terrorists. Finally, although I don't see you face to face, may you be blessed in your life, and your family and friends. I love you all.