Tsue Hayashi – an interview with Robert Del Tredici




The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima has arrived at the age of 75. This bomb was so powerful its first use was justified as demonstrating that this weapon meant, at last, the end of war itself. But the bomb, without missing a beat, spawned instead a Cold War that, after 2 billion, 365 million, 200 thousand seconds of paranoid, hyper-active nuclear peace, has, according the The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, brought us to within one hundred seconds of a war that promises to wipe the human race clean off the face of the Earth.

It is time to touch base with some of the hard-won wisdom from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Hiroshima we meet Yoshito Matsushige, a photographer who took the only known pictures on August 6 after the A-bomb exploded overhead. He had two rolls of film but could not bear to take more than five shots that day. He describes the anguish he went through taking those few historic images.

In Nagasaki we meet Tsue Hayashi, whose 15-year old daughter Kyoko had gone to school early on August 9 and did not come home. Tsue spent 21 days searching the ruins for Kayoko. She tells us, “ I wondered, What on earth is the wisdom of mankind? Whatever it was, I hated it. Who invented this bomb? If they had such great brains, why couldn’t they also invent a way to help the victims recover? I think mankind opened the lid to the box that God said not to open in the Bible. I hope mankind never uses the A-bomb again.”

— Robert Del Tredici

Tsue Hayashi, Sakurababa, Nagasaki, Japan, August 14, 1985

Mrs. Hayashi, age 84, is the mother of Kayoko, who at age 15 was lost in the explosion of the Nagasaki bomb. The story of Tsue Hayashi’s search for her daughter has become a legend in Nagasaki. “The morning after the bomb, and every day after that, from early morning until evening, I walked all over the city looking for Kayoko. I saw many people suffering and dying. It was very sad. I felt deeply the severe power of the A-bomb. I cannot remember seeing a single other person walking.”

Tsue Hayashi’s only child was named Kayoko. Iri August 1945, Kayoko was fifteen years old. Like many her age, she had been mobilized for the war effort. She worked at the Shiroyama Primary School, which had been converted into a torpedo-assembly plant. The school was located in Nagasaki’s Urakami district, 3.5 kilometers from her home.

The story of Kayoko’s cherry trees is well known in Nagasaki, but outside Nagasaki not many people have heard of it. . . .
That is right. It is not known. I never meant it to be famous. I’d prefer people to leave Kayoko’s cherry trees alone. The story came from my desire to pray for Kayoko’s spirit and for everyone who died in the bomb.

How does it begin?

On the morning of August 9, I gave Kayoko her lunch box, and she went out of the house to go to work at the Shiroyama Primary School. A few minutes later she came back and put her lunch box down. I asked her, “What is wrong?” She said, “I don’t feel like going to work today.” This was unusual. Kayoko was a very serious girl. She always worked hard. This was the first time she had said something like this. I wanted to tell her, “Please take a day off,”  but I didn’t. Her birthday was coming in two days, and I wanted her to take a day off then. If she took a day off now that would make two days in one week. So I told her to go to work, and in two days she would have a holiday. She picked up her lunch box and went to work. I am the one who sent her away. I regret and regret and regret this.

Later that morning the bomb fell. At first I did not realize it was an atomic bomb. I just noticed something bright and flashing, like sparks from a trolley car, and I heard thunder. I ran out of the house without my shoes on and saw the sky over Urakami full of black smoke. It was unusual. My first thought was to get Kayoko. I started making my way toward Urakami, but the chief of my block saw me and called out, “Where are you going?” I told him, “Kayoko is in Urakami!” He grabbed me and said, “You’ll die if you go there!” I stood there for a long time. The smoke began to turn into flames. I went home. People with burns on their faces and backs started going past my house. Some had skin hanging down like rags. I asked them, “How is Urakami?” and, “Have you seen Kayoko? She was working at the Shiroyama Primary School.” They told me that a big bomb had been dropped and that Urakami had been destroyed.

The whole night I waited for Kayoko on the front porch. I kept praying for her to be alive. The morning after the bomb, and every day after that, from early morning until evening, I walked all over the city looking for Kayoko. I saw many people suffering and dying. It was very sad. I felt deeply the severe power of the A-bomb. I cannot remember seeing a single other person walking. Maybe that is because of the rumor that you will die sooner if you go into Urakami. There were no trees there, no grass, no houses, only a lot of broken roof tiles. And many corpses. I thought, “I’ve heard of hell. It must be like this.” Some of the people were still dying. When I walked past them they would say, “Give me water, please. Please help me.” I could only say, “I’m sorry. I have no water. I can’t help you. Forgive me. I have to look for my child.”

When I was looking for my child I kept thinking about the wisdom of mankind. I wondered, “What on earth is this wisdom of mankind?” Whatever it was, I hated it. It wasn’t the bad people who were killed. The A-bomb killed everybody. Even condemned criminals have a better death than the people I saw suffering. I couldn’t help them at all, I had to walk right through them. My feet were hurt and bleeding, but I kept thinking stubbornly about the wisdom of mankind. Who invented this bomb? If they had such great brains, why couldn’t they also invent a way to help the victims recover? I knew there would be no answer to my questions. I think mankind opened the lid of the box that God said not to open in the Bible. I hope mankind never uses the A-bomb again.

Day after day, for twenty-one days, I wandered, seeking my Kayoko. It was the middle of summer and the days were very hot. One time I was looking for Kayoko in the mountains and I saw a young woman with a cotton shawl over her head, nursing her baby. I was frightened and wondered if she was a real human being. I went closer. I found out she was not a person in this world anymore. It was a corpse. When I saw that, I thought, “How miserable!” Maybe only women will understand the feeling of nursing a baby. It is a very pure and innocent time. It is like heaven in this world. The A-bomb killed this woman in that pure and innocent moment. –

At first I was looking for a live child, but about-halfway through my search I started looking for her among the corpses. But the corpses were so burned you could recognize only the shape of the skull. I decided to look at the corpses’ teeth. My child had a row of teeth that was different from others’. Her front bottom teeth came out a little farther than usual. She was also starting treatment on a back tooth. So I opened the mouths of corpses to look at their teeth. Some of the corpses’ mouths were closed very tightly. I had to pry them open.

One day I found a corpse whose teeth looked like my child’s. I wasn’t sure, though, because Kayoko’s back tooth had not received a real filling yet, but the corpse whose teeth were like Kayoko’s looked like it had a filling. Still I thought, “It’s Kayoko,” and I brought the remains back home. I held a funeral ceremony with my neighbors.

When I finished the funeral, my heart would not become calm. I had a dream at that time. In the dream I saw Kayoko wandering in the ruins. That made me think, “Kayoko is still waiting for me out there. Maybe she is even still alive, just barely breathing, and can’t call out.” So I kept looking for my child every day, even after the funeral.

At last I found my real child. It finally happened twenty-one days after the bomb exploded. I found her on the top floor of the Shiroyama Primary School. This was the third time I had gone up there to look for her. To get to the third floor, I had to crawl, because the stairway had been destroyed.

How did you know it was the real Kayoko this time?

During the war I made an air-raid hood for Kayoko out of my cotton kimono. I heard cotton did not burn easily. I sewed a small notebook into the top part of the hood. In the notebook I had written my last will and testament. I told Kayoko: If I die, you should live in such-and-such a way. I have left your belongings under my parents’ place in the country. When the war is over, get them. Your home’s economical condition is such-and-such. Learn this condition and live according to it. You should never commit suicide, even if I die and you become very sad. Keep living firmly. You were born with the ability to survive.

When I went upstairs this time at the Shiroyama Primary School, I noticed a piece of that air-raid hood. I said, “What’s that?” and ran over to it. There I found the upper part of my child’s body. It was half burned. There was no lower part remaining. Everything else on the third floor had been burned completely. Other people’s bones were burned and had become like pieces of small gravel. But my child’s bones remained intact, even though there was no meat on them. And the shape of my child’s open mouth formed an “ah” sound, as if she was saying “Ka-a-a-a-a. When I saw that, I thought my child must have been calling “0-ka-cha-ma” [“Mommy”] before she died.

Was the notebook still in the cotton hood?

Yes, it hadn’t been burned. I was very sad to pick up my last will and testament again in this place. I wrapped up my child’s bones in cloth. To get down to the ground floor I had to slide down on my bottom, pulling the cloth bundle behind me. On the ground, I cremated my child, When I got home I came down with a very high fever, and I had to stay in bed.
What happened with the remains of the other child?

I buried her in the same grave as Kayoko’s. So the unknown girl was enshrined as one of my family’s deceased. When the Festival of the Dead comes I have the priest pray for the unknown girl, too. Do you know what Ta-mu-ke is? It means to offer something to dead people, like flowers or cookies. I still offer cooked rice and tea every day.

For Kayoko?

Yes, but I saw many dead people everywhere. I walked through them, crying. When the war was over, I eagerly wanted to make some kind of offering. I thought about it over and over. I decided I’d like to plant cherry trees to go around the school. I wanted to do this for their souls.

For the souls of .. .

For the souls of everyone. If it were only for Kayoko I wouldn’t have dared to ask for permission to plant the trees. Thousands of people died—there were so many corpses it was hard not to step on them. I wanted to offer something to all those people. The cherry trees were for everybody. Do you understand?

The Shiroyama teachers said, “All right, you may plant cherry trees.” But there were no young cherry trees in Nagasaki at that time. A gardener told me, “There’s not even food here, not to mention young cherry trees!” I asked the gardener and his son to go around the bay to Kurume to buy them. They planted the cherry trees ,round the school. Those trees were beautiful when they bloomed.
Thank you for telling your story. I learned today that Kayoko’s cherry trees were not only for Kayoko, but for every¬one.

Do you know something? I never named them “Kayoko’s Cherry Trees.” The school named them that. I would have called them just something like “Ta-mu-ke no sakura” [“Cherry Tree Offering for the Dead”]. I didn’t build the monument either. The school put it in. This whole thing has become more and more famous, and I am somewhat embarrassed by it.

Interview translated by Setsumi Del Tredici.