91-Year-Old A-Bomb Survivor Spurred by G7 Leaders to Share His Memories

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mikio Saiki stands in front of the cenotaph for atomic bomb victims in Naka Ward, Hiroshima, on Sunday.

HIROSHIMA — On Sunday morning, 91-year-old atomic bomb survivor Mikio Saiki offered flowers and prayed at the memorial cenotaph in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park.

For many years, Saiki kept his painful memories sealed away. Amid the growing threat, however, that Russia might use nuclear weapons in its invasion of Ukraine, he has decided to begin sharing the tragedy of the atomic bombing from his perspective as a survivor.

Saiki was 13, a second-year student at Hiroshima Daiichi Junior High School (currently Hiroshima Kokutaiji High School), when the United States bombed the city. He had frequently been mobilized for labor to help Japan fight the war, but had been ordered to stand by that day. He stayed at home, 2.2 kilometers from the hypocenter.

He vividly remembers the moment. An intense light enveloped Saiki as he was about to put on his shoes at the entrance. The house collapsed, and he forced his way through the debris in the dark to escape.

Just before noon, his father, who had been near Hiroshima Station, returned home with severe burns on the left side of his body. The skin on his arm was hanging down, but he could not get medical care. Soon after, people with swollen faces and burned clothing began fleeing from the city center.

Saiki’s parents, sister, brother and other family members miraculously survived. They laid tatami mats at the destroyed entrance to their home and spent the night watching the sky turn red from the flames.

The next day, on his way to school, Saiki saw countless blackened bodies on both sides of the road. He went back home, unable to do anything amid the burnt land as far as the eye could see. A total of 369 teachers, staff and students — mostly first-year students who had been mobilized to work at a factory — were killed at his school.

After the war, Saiki worked for a local TV station and was involved in production. He always felt a sense of guilt that “I survived while so many students suffered and died.” Even after retiring, he still felt pain when he recalled those days, so he never spoke about his memories to those around him.

Five years ago, Saiki was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and his family encouraged him to preserve his story and tell it while he was still alive. But he couldn’t make up his mind to do it.

Then, a terrible thing shook him to his core — Saiki was filled with anger at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons in the invasion of Ukraine that began last February.

At the G7 summit held in Hiroshima in May, the leaders of industrialized countries, including the nuclear weapons states of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and wrote their thoughts on peace in a book.

Saiki saw that moment as “a step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons” and he felt as if they had given him a push.

At the same time, he thought: “Even world leaders were exposed to the reality of the bombing for the first time through that event. Many people still don’t know what happened that day.”

In June, Saiki applied to Hiroshima City to become an atomic-bombing “witness” and underwent training to give lectures at the memorial museum and elsewhere. Saiki is currently compiling a script and learning speaking techniques in preparation for the start of his activities next year and beyond.

After attending a ceremony Sunday marking the 78th anniversary of the bombing, Saiki said, “I want to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons as long as I live, until the day comes when the world seriously considers nuclear abolition and that ideal is realized.”