Hiroshima Survivor Recounts Experiences at Memorial Service

The commemoration service at Koyasan Buddhist Temple included a display of photos showing the impact of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

The horrors that followed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima were recounted on Aug. 4 at Koyasan Beikoku Betsuin of Los Angeles during the 74th commemorative service for atomic bomb victims.

The temple and the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors (ASA) traditionally hold the service on or near the anniversary dates of Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9).

ASA President Junji Sarashina recalled “the orange flash and the explosion … The whole city of Hiroshima started to burn. Three days later, Nagasaki. We lost 70,000 people in Nagasaki. In Hiroshima, 120,000 people perished. I happened to be one of the survivors.”

The officiant was Bishop Junkun Imamura, assisted by Rev. Ryuzen Hayashi and Rev. Daichi Kihara. The service included chanting by the ministers and Koyasan Eiyu-kai, and incense offering by the congregation.

Imamura explained that the purpose of the service was twofold: “To pray for the souls of the victims [so that they]may rest in peace. Second, to continue to appeal to the people for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Because the Japanese people were the first to experience … nuclear bombs, I think it’s their duty to advocate for the abolishment of nuclear weapons.”

On the altar was the Hiroshima Peace Flame, which will burn until the world is free of nuclear weapons. Candlelight offerings were made by Hajime Mukai of Hiroshima Kenjinkai, Yoshiko Kawada of L.A. Nagasaki-kai, Hiroko Nakano of ASA, and Kenneth T. Ito of Koyasan.

The guest speaker was Howard Kakita, an ASA member who has shared his experiences with youth and community organizations to promote peace education.

From Boyle Heights to Hiroshima

Howard Kakita survived the bombing along with his brother and grandparents despite being close to the hypocenter.

Born in Boyle Heights, he went to Hiroshima in 1940 when he was 7½ with his parents and his 9-year-old brother Kenny. His mother gave birth to his younger brother, Albert, during their stay. The purpose was to visit his grandfather, who was ill and was not expected to live much longer.

“My grandfather’s health improved considerably,” Kakita said. “As it turned out, he was suffering from depression because all of his boys, four of them, were in the United States … Anyway, when we got there, we had a wonderful time.”

When it came time for his family to return home, “My father thought … maybe he’ll sell his business in Boyle Heights and then come back to Japan to take care of Grandfather. Now to show good faith that he was going to return to Japan, he left his two older sons, that’s my older brother Kenny and myself, in care of my grandparents, and they returned to United States with this grand plan.”

With outbreak of war between Japan and the U.S., Kakita and his brother were stuck in Japan while his family in the U.S. was incarcerated in Poston, Ariz.

Kakita described what happened on Aug. 6, 1945: “It was a beautiful Monday morning. The sun was shining … School was canceled because of enemy aircraft … So happily we came home, changed into our play clothes and when the air raid siren went off, that was just around eight o’clock that morning, my brother and I … jumped on top of the roof and we were looking for the vapor trail … Every time you had an air raid, at least in the daytime, we were looking for the vapor trails. That used to be kind of fun.

“My grandmother … told us to get the hell off the roof … My grandmother went back into the kitchen to wash dishes. I came down and went underneath the bath house. We had a separate structure for the bath. Then the bomb went off.

“People that were in the outskirts, maybe a mile or two away, they definitely saw this huge flash … Then a huge percussion came afterwards. But we were so close that the percussion and the flash were simultaneous … I was knocked down instantaneously and thrown a number of feet from where I was probably standing. And when I came to, and I’m not sure exactly how long I was out … everything was collapsed on top of me …

“Happily, I was not seriously injured, so I dug myself out and walked into the courtyard where our house used to be. Kenny … had a slight little burn on his forehead from the radiation, but nothing serious … Unfortunately, my grandmother was still in the kitchen, buried underneath the house/

“She was evidently standing very close to the window and the initial blast propelled dozens of small pieces of glass into her body. She was bleeding pretty badly, but nothing fatal … My grandfather and some of the other men were digging her out and I’m happy she was able to survive that blast … She was mobile and in fairly good shape considering the situation she was in.

“All we thought at that time … is that a bomb fell on us, an ordinary bomb, not realizing the extent of the damage. Meanwhile that particular ares was beginning to burn, the flames were coming up. My grandfather told my grandmother to take the kids out towards the river and we headed north towards the mountain area, where it was still not burning so bad. So my grandmother, badly hurt as she was, took us by the hand …