Friday, January 8, 2010
Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only Japanese civilian to be officially recognized as having survived both the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in August of 1945 at the conclusion of World War Two, has died this Monday at the age of ninety-three, due to stomach cancer—one of the numerous illnesses that he suffered throughout his lifetime as a direct result of his exposure to nuclear radiation.
Mr. Yamaguchi, although he was against his nation’s involvement in the War, worked as a engineer for Mitsubishi—a company that helped equip and supply the Japanese Imperial Army. He was on business in Hiroshima at the time of the first bombing on August sixth. His almost direct exposure to the atomic explosion temporarily blinded him, ruptured his ear drum (leaving him permanently deaf in his left ear), and severely burnt the top half of his body. Three days later, having gone back to work in Nagasaki, he was approximately three kilometers away from the site of the second bomb. Although he was exposed to significant radiation in this instance as well, Mr. Yamaguchi was left relatively unscathed.
Following Japan’s surrender and the end of the War days later, Mr. Yamaguchi worked as a translator for the occupying American forces and later as a local schoolmaster, before eventually returning to Mitsubishi—which had since then become an automobile manufacturer.
In his later years, Mr. Yamaguchi became a respected lecturer who gave talks about his experiences, and publicly spoke out against the stockpiling of nuclear weapons.
For instance, in 2006, he addressed the United Nations General Assembly. “Having been granted this miracle, it is my responsibility to pass on the truth to the people of the world,” Mr. Yamaguchi said to the Assembly. He went on to say, “My double radiation exposure is now an official government record. It can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die.”
When asked by the British Broadcasting Corporation what his reaction was to Mr. Yamaguchi’s death, the mayor of Nagasaki said that “a precious storyteller has been lost.”
Among the family and friends Mr. Yamaguchi left behind were his three adult children—who have also had health issues in their lifetimes thus far that they think may have be related to their father’s initial exposure.