Shared Stories: Devastation

The 2011 earthquake in Japan prompted Kay Okino to reflect on another time of great devastation to her father’s ancestral home – the bombing of Hiroshima - and a story of survival. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns


By Kay Okino

On March 11 2011, there was a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan that brought great destruction, one that left tens of thousands dead or missing and 350,000 people homeless.  

Great damage was done to the country’s nuclear plants, which are, to this day, not able to control the seeping radiation that is causing havoc to Japan, and if not controlled, to the rest of the world.

In 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Japan, by the United States, which ended World War II, thus eliminating further casualties of U.S. soldiers and of Japanese too.

Hiroshima is my father’s ancestral home.  In the fall of 1989 I visited Japan for the first time. There I visited the Atom Bomb Museum and looked at the eerie pictures and things that had melted into the concrete.

 Gambaku Dome, photo courtesy Wikipedia

Gambaku Dome, photo courtesy Wikipedia

There stood the Gambaku Dome, translated Atomic Dome, the only physical structure that survived the atomic attack.  Looking at it and visiting there were sad experiences for me.  My uncle, my father’s brother, lived very close to the area, only about ten minutes ride on the train.

When the bomb hit, all the able-bodied men rushed to the area to help.  Even amidst terrible destruction and misery, beautiful acts of human kindness emerged, bringing hope to this troubled world.

I never forgot the story my uncle told me about when the bomb fell. He said, “I rushed to the city to help. There was destruction all over. Amidst the rubble, I found a little girl – three or four years old – crying on the beach for her parents. I looked all over for her parents, but couldn’t find them. Everyone was homeless. The city was destroyed. There was nowhere to take her, so I brought her home.”

He had four children of his own.  Food and other necessities were scarce, but he raised the girl as his own until her father was found some years later, and they were reunited.

At the time I visited, the girl had already married and was living in Tokyo quite away from Hiroshima.  I asked my uncle, “Does she remember you?”

He answered, “Yes, she has never forgotten and comes to visit me from time to time.”

In 1999, ten years later, I visited Japan again.  Sadly, my uncle was gone.  I visited his grave which was located at the edge of his property next to a forest.

He told me something I had completely forgotten.  After the war, he said, “You sent me a box of old clothing.  In it were a sweater and gloves.  The winter was cold.  Those things helped me so much.”

I believe that because of this we became very good friends.  Unfortunately, our friendship came very late.  My uncle’s name was Yoshima Uyeno.