Hibakusha Testimony Reflection: Kajiya-san

July 28th, Kajiya-san was the third hibakusha to give us his testimony. The visuals he provided really stood out because he had drawn them himself. It is amazing to see the impact that visuals have in conveying one’s experience more thoroughly. I find particular interest in the use of art to convey topics related to one’s own experience. I had asked him how he creates it and he uses a mix of oil pastels, watercolor, and other media he finds. The real pieces are quite large, I’ve been told. They seem to be fueled by both passion and a need to tell his story well. He expressed that he originally created the art to better hold the attention of his younger audience. I believe it not only helps hold the attention of children but expresses the imagery better to adults as well. The effort he puts in is very appreciated and the inclusion of his art with his testimony was a great addition. His story and art included not only himself but his father, mother, and sister as well. For this reason, I felt his story to be very impactful and one I cannot imagine forgetting. 

More so than some of the previous hibakusha testimony, Kajiya-san’s focused not only on his own experience but the world leading up to it. He gave us some history of Japan and its place in the war. According to Kajiya-san, Japanese people thought the war wouldn’t last very long. I can’t say I am surprised by this because I think anyone who willingly enters a war expects it to be quick. An interesting statement from Kajiya-san is that it is easy to start a war but difficult to end it. I agree that this is likely true. Kajiya-san then told us that while the surrounding areas of Japan had been firebombed, Hiroshima was left untouched. That must have left an anticipatory type of fear in Hiroshima citizens leading up to the bomb.

Kajiya-san then told us a detailed firsthand account of what happened to him. He had gone to the elementary school that day and was helping clean when he saw a huge burst of light. The school building had fallen onto him and his fellow students. His small body was crushed under the fallen rubble. He could see a light and mustered all of his strength to climb to it. Miraculously, he had made it out of the rubble with his own willpower. If he had not made it out quickly, the house would have burned completely with him still under it. He described the pride he felt in his strength to survive. This is the first time I have heard somebody describe pride in themself for surviving the blast. I am glad he feels this way because his strength as a child is admirable. I believe in his story he represents the spirit of Hiroshima’s survival. After he escaped the rubble, he followed the line of other survivors towards the outskirts of town.

Kajiya-san continued by telling us of his father rushing to the school house to help all of the children. He and other parents worked together to lift debris and pull children out. His father had come after he had already escaped and left but his sister was still under. The father dug Kajiya-san’s sister out but she was already dead, having been crushed. He proceeded to carry her body towards the outskirts. Kajiya-san was found by his parents who were overjoyed to see him alive, having assumed him to be dead. However, his mother mournfully held his sister’s body, heartbroken. Kajiya-san described the perplexing way in which his sister’s face had a slight smile.

Many years later, Kajiya-san’s mother was still extremely mournful of his sister’s passing. When he asked about her inability to move on, she confided with him about what happened before the bomb. At the time, third graders were supposed to evacuate the city while younger children stayed in the city with their parents. Being a third grader, Kajiya-san’s sister was evacuated. However, she wept and begged her mother to allow her to stay. His mother insisted that she would be safer outside the city. His mother had even got on the bus to leave but his sister ran after it crying. His mother could not bear the sight of this so she made the bus driver stop. When she spoke to his sister, the sister said she’d be okay with dying because she’d be with her mother. This convinced Kajiya-san’s mother to take his sister back into the city right before the bomb dropped. Of course, this decision directly led to his sister’s death. He believes, however, that this is the reason for her smile in death.

I deeply appreciate Kajiya-san’s telling of both the story of his own strength and survival as well as the stories of his family. His story brings in the experience of enduring survival and traumatic loss for his family. Later on in life, he and his family members also suffered the physical and mental effects of the bomb. He seems to bear the trauma with both pride and sorrow. I believe this is what makes his story all the more impactful. Kajiya-san, however, expressed that he is simply happy to be alive every morning. He said he wakes up every day and says “thank you.” I believe that to be a wonderful conclusion to his testimony

His following statements include his stance on war and what we need to remember. He believes only those countries who willingly enter conflict should receive the consequences of war. He connects this to Russia and its attacks on Ukraine. I personally appreciate his ability to apply what has happened in the past to current events. As someone who is young, I am very interested in the future and what needs to be done. Kajiya-san expresses the need for peace and believes in the disarmament of nuclear weaponry everywhere. I hope we can make this come true for not just the hibakusha but for the sake of the entire world. 

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