The Man Who Survived Two Atomic Bombs (2022)

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was preparing to leave Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell. The 29-year-old naval engineer was on a three-month-long business trip for his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and August 6, 1945, was supposed to be his last day in the city. He and his colleagues had spent the summer working long hours on the design for a new oil tanker, and he was looking forward to finally returning home to his wife, Hisako, and their infant son, Katsutoshi.

The Man Who Survived Two Atomic Bombs (1)

Around 8:15 that morning, Yamaguchi was walking to Mitsubishi’s shipyard a final time when he heard the drone of an aircraft overhead. Looking skyward, he saw an American B-29 bomber soar over the city and drop a small object connected to a parachute. Suddenly, the sky erupted in a blaze of light, which Yamaguchi later described as resembling the “the lightning of a huge magnesium flare.” He had just enough time to dive into a ditch before an ear-splitting boom rang out. The shock wave that accompanied it sucked Yamaguchi from the ground, spun him in the air like a tornado and sent him hurtling into a nearby potato patch. He’d been less than two miles from ground zero.

“I didn’t know what had happened,” he later told the British newspaper The Times. “I think I fainted for a while. When I opened my eyes, everything was dark, and I couldn’t see much. It was like the start of a film at the cinema, before the picture has begun when the blank frames are just flashing up without any sound.” The atomic blast had kicked up enough dust and debris to nearly blot out the morning sun. Yamaguchi was surrounded by torrents of falling ash, and he could see a mushroom cloud of fire rising in the sky over Hiroshima. His face and forearms had been badly burned, and both his eardrums were ruptured.

PHOTOS: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Before and After the Bombs

The Man Who Survived Two Atomic Bombs (2)
(Video) The Only Man To Survive TWO Nuclear Bombs

Yamaguchi wandered in a daze toward what remained of the Mitsubishi shipyard. There, he found his coworkers Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato, both of whom had survived the blast. After spending a restless night in an air raid shelter, the men awoke on August 7 and made their way toward the train station, which they had heard was somehow still operating. The journey took them through a nightmarish landscape of still-flickering fires, shattered buildings and charred and melted corpses lining the streets. Many of the city’s bridges had been turned into twisted wreckage, and at one river crossing, Yamaguchi was forced to swim through a layer of floating dead bodies. Upon reaching the station, he boarded a train full of burned and bewildered passengers and settled in for the overnight ride to his hometown of Nagasaki.

While Yamaguchi returned to his wife and child, the whole world turned its attention toward Hiroshima. Sixteen hours after the explosion, President Harry Truman gave a speech that revealed the existence of the atom bomb for the first time. “It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe,” he said. “The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.” A B-29 bomber called the “Enola Gay” had taken off from the Pacific island of Tinian and flown some 1,500 miles before detonating a bomb known as “Little Boy” in the skies over Hiroshima. The blast had immediately killed some 80,000 people, and tens of thousands more would perish in the weeks that followed. Truman warned in his statement that if Japan did not surrender, it could expect “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Yamaguchi arrived in Nagasaki early in the morning on August 8 and limped to the hospital. The doctor who treated him was a former school classmate, but the blackened burns on Yamaguchi’s hands and face were so severe the man didn’t recognize him at first. Neither did his family. When he returned home afterwards, feverish and swaddled in bandages, his mother accused him of being a ghost.

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Despite being on the verge of collapse, Yamaguchi dragged himself out of bed on the morning of August 9 and reported for work at Mitsubishi’s Nagasaki office. Around 11 a.m., he found himself in a meeting with a company director who demanded a full report on Hiroshima. The engineer recounted the scattered events of August 6—the blinding light, the deafening boom—but his superior accused him of being mad. How could a single bomb destroy an entire city? Yamaguchi was trying to explain himself when the landscape outside suddenly exploded with another iridescent white flash. Yamaguchi dropped to the ground just seconds before the shock wave shattered the office windows and sent broken glass and debris careening through the room. “I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he later told the newspaper The Independent.

READ MORE: Hiroshima, Then Nagasaki: Why the US Deployed the Second A-Bomb

The atom bomb that hit Nagasaki was even more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima, but as Yamaguchi would later learn, the city’s hilly landscape and a reinforced stairwell had combined to muffle the blast inside the office. His bandages were blown off, and he was hit by yet another surge of cancer-causing radiation, but he emerged relatively unhurt. For the second time in three days, he’d had the misfortune of being within two miles of a nuclear explosion. For the second time, he’d been fortunate enough to survive.

After fleeing from the skeleton of the Mitsubishi building, Yamaguchi rushed through a bomb-ravaged Nagasaki to check on his wife and son. He feared the worst when he saw a section of his house had been reduced to rubble, but he soon found both had sustained only superficial injuries. His wife had been out looking for burn ointment for her husband, and when the explosion came, she and the baby had taken refuge in a tunnel. It was yet another strange twist of fate. If Yamaguchi hadn’t been hurt at Hiroshima, his family might have been killed at Nagasaki.

READ MORE:Harry Truman and Hiroshima: Inside His Tense A-Bomb Vigil

(Video) The Man Who Survived Two Nuclear Bomb Blasts

The Man Who Survived Two Atomic Bombs (8)

In the days the followed, Yamaguchi’s double-dose of radiation took its toll. His hair fell out, the wounds on his arms turned gangrenous, and he began vomiting incessantly. He was still languishing in a bomb shelter with his family on August 15, when Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced the country’s surrender in a radio broadcast. “I had no feeling about it,” Yamaguchi later told The Times. “I was neither sorry nor glad. I was seriously ill with a fever, eating almost nothing, hardly even drinking. I thought that I was about to cross to the other side.”

Yet unlike so many victims of radiation exposure, Yamaguchi slowly recovered and went on to live a relatively normal life. He served as a translator for the U.S. armed forces during their occupation of Japan, and later taught school before resuming his engineering career at Mitsubishi. He and his wife even had two more children in the 1950s, both of them girls. Yamaguchi dealt with the horrific memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by writing poetry, but he avoided discussing his experiences publicly until the 2000s, when he released a memoir and became part of the anti-atomic weapons movement. He later journeyed to New York in 2006 and spoke about nuclear disarmament before the United Nations. “Having experienced atomic bombings twice and survived, it is my destiny to talk about it,”he said in his speech.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi wasn’t the only person to endure two atomic blasts. His coworkers Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato were also in Nagasaki when the second bomb fell, as was Shigeyoshi Morimoto, a kite maker who had miraculously survived Hiroshima despite being only a half-mile from ground zero. All told, some 165 people may have experienced both attacks, yet Yamaguchi was the only person officially recognized by the Japanese government as a “nijyuu hibakusha,” or “twice-bombed person.” He finally won the distinction in 2009, only a year before he died at the age of 93.

READ MORE: 'Father of the Atomic Bomb' Was Blacklisted for Opposing H-Bomb

FAQs

How many Hiroshima survivors are still alive? ›

Some 127,000 survivors of the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still alive.

How did Yamaguchi survive? ›

He survived with burns across his face and arms, and made it home to Nagasaki. Three days later, the second atomic bomb hit, flattening Yamaguchi's home. His family survived while out finding ointments to treat his already existent burns. They were safe in a tunnel and survived as well.

Did anyone survive the atomic bomb? ›

The Japanese government has recognized about 650,000 people as hibakusha. As of March 31, 2022, 118,935 were still alive, mostly in Japan. The government of Japan recognizes about 1% of these as having illnesses caused by radiation. Hibakusha are entitled to government support.

Who dropped the 2 atomic bombs? ›

The United States detonated two atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945, respectively. The two bombings killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom were civilians, and remain the only use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict.

Is Hiroshima still radioactive today? ›

The radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki today is on a par with the extremely low levels of background radiation (natural radioactivity) present anywhere on Earth. It has no effect on human bodies.

How long was Hiroshima radioactive for? ›

31. It was concluded that persons exposed to the bombs at the time of detonation did show effects from ionizing radiation and that some of these patients, otherwise uninjured, died. Deaths from radiation began about a week after exposure and reached a peak in 3 to 4 weeks.

How many innocent people died in Nagasaki and Hiroshima? ›

Total Casualties
HiroshimaNagasaki
Pre-raid population255,000195,000
Dead66,00039,000
Injured69,00025,000
Total Casualties135,00064,000

Why did US nuke Japan? ›

In order to avoid such a high casualty rate, Truman decided–over the moral reservations of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, General Dwight Eisenhower and a number of the Manhattan Project scientists–to use the atomic bomb in the hopes of bringing the war to a quick end.

Who dropped the A bomb? ›

The pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The man who was chosen by the A.A.F. to usher in the Atomic Age is a dark-haired, twenty-nine-year-old full colonel named Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.

How did Japan react to Hiroshima? ›

Around this time, the Army Air Forces began showering Japan with propaganda leaflets explaining what the bombers were and what they had done. They were made to look like little Japanese newspapers, with pictures of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. And on the next day, Hirohito announced the surrender.

Does anyone live in Hiroshima now? ›

Hiroshima lost over 75,000 people due to initial bomb devastation, ensuing radioactivity related deaths, and displacement. However, Hiroshima today has roughly tripled in population since the days of those horrors.

Which bomb was fat man? ›

Robert Lewis. The bomb destroyed 5 square miles of the city and caused about 140,000 deaths by the end of 1945. This implosion-type plutonium bomb, nicknamed Fat Man, weighed 10,800 pounds. The bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, August 9, 1945, at 11:01 AM.

Which bomb dropped first? ›

"Little Boy" was the codename for the type of atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 during World War II. It was the first nuclear weapon used in warfare.

How long would it take for the Earth to recover from nuclear war? ›

Recovery would probably take about 3-10 years, but the Academy's study notes that long term global changes cannot be completely ruled out. The reduced ozone concentrations would have a number of consequences outside the areas in which the detonations occurred.

Did the bombing of Hiroshima end the war? ›

What is the most radioactive place on Earth? ›

1. Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant, Japan is one of the world's most radioactive places. When a 9.1 magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami in 2011, it overwhelmed the existing safety features of the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant and caused the worst nuclear power plant disaster since Chernobyl.

Why did we nuke Japan and not Germany? ›

All of our concentration was on Germany.” Surviving Manhattan Project scientists continue to believe that the atomic bombs were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rather than on German targets, merely because they were not ready in time.

Did Hiroshima cause birth defects? ›

No statistically significant increase in major birth defects or other untoward pregnancy outcomes was seen among children of survivors. Monitoring of nearly all pregnancies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki began in 1948 and continued for six years.

Why is Chernobyl worse than Hiroshima? ›

"Compared with other nuclear events: The Chernobyl explosion put 400 times more radioactive material into the Earth's atmosphere than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima; atomic weapons tests conducted in the 1950s and 1960s all together are estimated to have put some 100 to 1,000 times more radioactive material into ...

Why is Chernobyl still radioactive and Hiroshima is not? ›

Hiroshima had 46 kg of uranium while Chernobyl had 180 tons of reactor fuel. A reactor also builds up a huge amount of nuclear waste, over the weeks it is running. There is a lot of different waste products, but the worst are cesium, iodine and irradiated graphite moderators.

How many years after a nuclear bomb is it safe? ›

For the survivors of a nuclear war, this lingering radiation hazard could represent a grave threat for as long as 1 to 5 years after the attack. Predictions of the amount and levels of the radioactive fallout are difficult because of several factors.

Why did US bomb Nagasaki? ›

The explicit reason was to swiftly end the war with Japan. But it was also intended to send a message to the Soviets. Ever since America dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945, the question has persisted: Was that magnitude of death and destruction really needed to end World War II?

Why was Hiroshima chosen for the atomic bomb? ›

Hiroshima was chosen as the primary target since it had remained largely untouched by bombing raids, and the bomb's effects could be clearly measured. While President Truman had hoped for a purely military target, some advisers believed that bombing an urban area might break the fighting will of the Japanese people.

How is Hiroshima today? ›

It is currently a major urban center with a population of 1.12 million people. Major industries in Hiroshima today are machinery, automotive (Mazda) and food processing. Interestingly enough, one quarter of Hiroshima's electricity is from nuclear power.

What's the difference between atomic bomb and nuclear bomb? ›

A nuclear bomb is a bomb that uses nuclear fission which is the splitting of an atom into two or more particles and nuclear fusion which is the fusion of two or more atoms into one large one while an atomic bomb is a type of nuclear bomb that uses nuclear fission.

What President dropped the atomic bomb? ›

Having been told about the successful Trinity Test of an atomic bomb, President Truman decided to drop an atomic bomb on Japan on August 6, 1945. It was his hope that the power of the bomb and the damage it would cause might be enough for the Japanese to stop fighting and surrender.

Who invented atom bomb? ›

Robert Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb.” On July 16, 1945, in a remote desert location near Alamogordo, New Mexico, the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated—the Trinity Test. It created an enormous mushroom cloud some 40,000 feet high and ushered in the Atomic Age.

What did the pilot say after dropping the atomic bomb? ›

As the city disappeared under a mushroom cloud, Captain Robert Lewis – co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped the weapon – wrote in his log “My God, what have we done?” Three days later the U.S.

Did the pilot who dropped the atomic bomb regret it? ›

Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died Thursday at his home in Columbus, Ohio after suffering a number of health problems. He was 92. Tibbets, who maintained that he didn't have any regrets about the World War II mission, had been in decline for months.

Who dropped Little Boy? ›

The atomic bomb used at Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, was "Little Boy". The bomb was dropped by a USAAF B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, piloted by U.S. Army Air Force Colonel Paul Tibbets, Jr. The bomb weighed 9,000 pounds and had a diameter of only 28 inches.

How do the Japanese feel about Hiroshima? ›

As for the atomic bombings themselves, first and foremost Japanese society holds Hiroshima and Nagasaki up as the epitome of the suffering and destruction that war brings.

Can you still see Hiroshima shadows? ›

It is one of the most complete impressions left behind by the blast, and remained in place for over 20 years before it was removed and taken to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Now, visitors can see the horrific Hiroshima shadows up close as the memorials to the horrors of nuclear weapons.

How many died instantly at Nagasaki? ›

The explosion immediately killed an estimated 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people.

Was there anyone who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki? ›

Tsutomu Yamaguchi (山口 彊, Yamaguchi Tsutomu) (16 March 1916 – 4 January 2010) was a Japanese marine engineer and a survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings during World War II.

Why did Japan forgive the US? ›

“After the Korean War, the U.S. had to rethink how it would deal with Asia, so in order to contain communism, the U.S. and Japan signed a peace treaty that says Japan is a sovereign country but agrees that the U.S. can stay and provide security,” explains Green.

Is Japan still angry with the United States? ›

From the late 20th century and onwards, the United States and Japan have had firm and active political, economic and military relationships. US government officials generally consider Japan to be one of its closest allies and partners.

What did the pilot say after dropping the atomic bomb? ›

As the city disappeared under a mushroom cloud, Captain Robert Lewis – co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped the weapon – wrote in his log “My God, what have we done?” Three days later the U.S.

Can a human be vaporized? ›

According to the captured study, it takes around three gigajoules of death-ray to entirely vaporize a person—enough to completely melt 5,000 pounds of steel or simulate a lightning bolt.

What happens to a body in a nuclear explosion? ›

BLAST WAVE can cause death, injury, and damage to structures several miles out from the blast. RADIATION can damage cells of the body. FIRE AND HEAT can cause death, burn injuries, and damage to structures several miles out.

How many people were vaporized in Hiroshima? ›

The bomb vaporized people half a mile away from ground zero. Bronze statues melted, roof tiles fused together, and the exposed skin of people miles away burned from the intense infrared energy unleashed. At least 80,000 people died instantly.

Who dropped Fat Man? ›

The atomic bomb used at Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, was "Fat Man". The bomb was dropped by a USAAF B-29 airplane named "Bockscar", piloted by U.S. Army Air Force Major Charles Sweeney. The bomb weighed 10,000 pounds and had a diameter of 60 inches.

Why was Nagasaki chosen as a target? ›

However, Nagasaki was originally chosen as the third target for atomic bombing because its population was much smaller than those of Hiroshima and Kokura, which was the second target. Also, a prisoner of war camp was there.

How long would it take for the Earth to recover from nuclear war? ›

Recovery would probably take about 3-10 years, but the Academy's study notes that long term global changes cannot be completely ruled out. The reduced ozone concentrations would have a number of consequences outside the areas in which the detonations occurred.

Which bomb was Fat Man? ›

Robert Lewis. The bomb destroyed 5 square miles of the city and caused about 140,000 deaths by the end of 1945. This implosion-type plutonium bomb, nicknamed Fat Man, weighed 10,800 pounds. The bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, August 9, 1945, at 11:01 AM.

How many innocent people died in Nagasaki and Hiroshima? ›

Total Casualties
HiroshimaNagasaki
Pre-raid population255,000195,000
Dead66,00039,000
Injured69,00025,000
Total Casualties135,00064,000

How is Hiroshima today? ›

It is currently a major urban center with a population of 1.12 million people. Major industries in Hiroshima today are machinery, automotive (Mazda) and food processing. Interestingly enough, one quarter of Hiroshima's electricity is from nuclear power.

Videos

1. What does it feel like to survive an atomic bomb? Nagasaki survivor Yasuaki Yamashita explains
(United Nations)
2. The Man Who Survived Two Atomic Bombs
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3. Tsutomu Yamaguchi: A Man Survived Both Atomic Bombs in Japan
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4. The Man Who Survived Two Atom Bombs!
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5. Yamaguchi, Survivor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki l ARTE Documentary
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6. The Man Who survived Two Atomic Bombs
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