JPRI Critique Vol. XIX No. 4 (July 2013)
Hasegawa Tadashi’s Memoir of a Life Shaped by the Atomic Bomb
by Jean R. Renshaw *

When the atomic bomb fell on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, Hasegawa Tadashi was 14 years old. His town and his nation had been at war for his entire life. Memories of his life before the atomic bomb included fun times with his three older brothers and three sisters, playing games and swimming with classmates in the Ota River, but also an awareness of the increasing militarization of the entire nation as the war stretched on and grew closer to the mainland of Japan and his home. He recorded his memories and thoughts and they were published in his memoir in Japan in 2010: 八月六日の朝ぼくは十四歳だった (On the morning of August 6th, I was 14 years old). [1]

He writes that in the year he was born, “the Manchurian incident occurred (a war provoked by Japan in Northeastern China) beginning in earnest the Japanese invasion of China. For that reason, amidst the omens of war the birth of a male child who could eventually be of service to his country was a great joy to my parents and our neighbors.”

Thinking back now, these values seem extremely anachronistic but in a time of full-blown war considering that our family was of samurai descent, our family may have had some unique family values. On top of that we had the spirit of the popular slogan at that time of “Selfless Devotion—Sacrificing Yourself and Serving Others.” . . .

When I was about four years old, I had already begun to run around the house singing, “I love soldiers. When I get bigger I want to ride my horse saying giddy up with a gun over my shoulder and a sword on my hip.” My sister, two years older than me would often get out props and make believe she was a military nurse. She would suddenly grab me and make me play the role of a wounded soldier. Even though every day was like that for a few years until I went to elementary school I spent relatively peaceful, fun-filled days with my playmates from the neighborhood. . . .

He describes Hiroshima as a town historically deeply connected with war. During the Sino-Japanese war beginning in 1894, Hiroshima Castle had been the general headquarters of the Supreme War Council presided over by the Emperor himself. For a strategic headquarters to be located in such a provincial small city (about 90,000 people at the time) was something unheard of before or since. Hiroshima was then called “Military Metropolis Hiroshima.”

image1Entering school at the age of six, he recounts how the dissemination of militarism began. Even for first graders who knew nothing of the world outside, the first pages of their introductory book said “advance, advance, soldiers advance.” They were taught to study with hearts filled with gratitude to the soldiers of powerful Japan who risk their lives fighting for the sake of the country. Almost 40 percent of the city was occupied by the military. Students were required to strictly observe special rituals daily to train them to respect the Emperor who was a living god and who appeared in this world taking the form of a human being.

Over the next few years as the war continued and expanded, the songs and celebrations of victories changed and by the 5th grade they were learning the sounds of American bombers—the Boeing B-17 and B-29, and the Consolidated B-240—and identifying fighter planes and their distance from the school. They practiced evacuating to different shelters and homes. For these growing children, the most difficult thing was not the fear of bombing but the shortage of food. They had begun to cultivate the fields at the edge of the school grounds for food with a slogan posted saying, “We do not Want, until we Win.”

Hasegawa describes how conditions worsened culminating on August 6, 1945, with the atomic bombing. He and a few classmates were taking a quick swim in the Ota River as they awaited the air raid signal summoning them to the shelters. They first heard the “bees”—the bombers—then their classmates yelling at them to come out of the water.

Hasegawa’s description of the bombing and its aftermath is graphic and devastating:

The next moment I noticed everything go dim. Then there was a flash from behind me, and the entire sky turned true yellow. In the middle of the flash, there was something like white granules about the size of a ping-pong ball and they came pouring down like hail. It felt as though it was coming towards me and enveloping me. A hideous searing crackling noise was transmitted through my flesh. The back part of my short-sleeve underwear had melted away instantaneously from the heat flash. An extreme pain shot through me like heat and hurt all jumbled up. While bearing this pain I let out an incomprehensible groan. I could not draw air into my body. I puckered my mouth like a goldfish but to no avail. Soon I was short of breath and writhing on the spot. I had lost all sensation in my body.

Miraculously Hasegawa survived with a recovery period of many years and the scars and disabilities of his experience carried throughout his life. His memoir chronicles vividly his recovery and the pain of the losses of family and friends. After partially recovering from his injuries, he embarked on a long and difficult road to becoming a Jesuit priest as he struggled with the after effects of the bomb that included leukemia and periods of low blood count. As one of the few survivors of the direct impact of the bomb, his story and the ability to communicate the experience are unique.

As his story began to be known, schoolteachers invited him to talk to their students. Peace movement groups invited him to speak at conferences and meetings, feeling that the story of a person who had experienced the devastation of the bomb and its aftermath was a powerful tool to convince people that the bomb should never be used again. Later he compiled his journals and memories into the memoir published in Japan in 2010. He continuously advocated and worked for peace until the end of his life. Hasegawa passed away on September 13, 2012. [2]

* Jean R. Renshaw is a principal in the consulting firm AJR International Associates, based in the USA, and a professor of Management and Organizational Behavior. Her publications include Korean Women Managers and Corporate Culture: Challenging Tradition, Choosing Empowerment, Creating Change (Routledge, 2011) and Kimono in the Boardroom: The Invisible Evolution of Japanese Women Managers (Oxford University Press, 1999).


[1] 長谷川儀 [Hasegawa Tadashi], 八月六日の朝ぼくは十四歳だった [On the morning of August 6th, I was 14 years old] (Tokyo: Joshi Paulo Kai, 2010). [Return to Text]

[2] The quotations used in this review are drawn from John Silverman’s translation of Hasegawa’s memoir. However, this English-language manuscript has not yet been published. For information about the English translation, contact Richard Thaler ( [Return to Text]

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