HANFORD REACH > Oral Histories


My name is Toshiharu Kano. I was born March 1, 1946, six months after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945.

Our family was less than half a mile from the center of the blast, and I was twelve weeks along inside of my mother. I lost my older brother. He was sixteen months old. But I have my sister alive today. She's seventy-six years old; she was just about three years old when the bomb was dropped. So we really feel that we are fortunate. My mother passed away in 2007, at age ninety-three. My father passed away at age sixty-two, in 1976, with a massive cancer.

When I was born I was just over four pounds, and because of the radiation that I had received I did not have any immune system whatsoever. I was sick. Normally, on average, I was sick one hundred days out of the school year, each year. So you can imagine, in Japan there was such a strict tough educational system; I could no longer follow their activities. And I was falling behind, and behind… I thought about killing myself. I felt the only honor that I could restore to my family was killing myself.

My sister and I as far as we know, are the only survivors within a half a mile from the center, today. And being twelve weeks old inside of my mother, as far as I know I am the youngest survivor of the atomic bomb.

And it was not easy for me to survive. I had mumps seven times. I had tuberculosis. I lost twenty percent of my left lung. I had kidney failure: just imagine, a kidney stone at age six. And I had pneumonic fever. I had liver failure. In 1987, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and the doctor gave me three months to live.

But I'm here today... I did not die.

The emperor of Japan had already recorded, on a disc, the unconditional surrender speech in June. But the Japanese military, especially the chief of staff of the army, refused to give themselves up. Matter of fact, his troops tried to kill the emperor: there was a coup in July. They stormed the palace to take the disc away from [the] emperor and destroy it, but the coup failed, so all of the soldiers that stormed the palace [were] executed.

But the most disturbing thing about this is, in my opinion: General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan project, he had a plan to drop five more bombs on Japan. He did not take the order from Truman; he made his own decision, without his concurrence. He had an interview with news media... In the interview he said why he decided to drop the bomb. The foremost reason was, he wanted to tell Russia that we are the Superpower. And number two: we had invested trillions of dollars developing a bomb; he was afraid that he will be chastised by the public for spending so much money developing the bomb without successful use. But he had a chance to use it in Japan, to tell the world: "We are the Superpower."

See, the other scientists that worked for General Leslie Groves protested implementing dropping the bomb. Matter of fact, they signed a petition, and submitted it to President Truman not to use the bomb, because they knew what [it] could do. But General Leslie Groves ignored that petition, because of those two reasons.

She was nursing my brother, and my sister was beside her when the bomb exploded. She saw a blue/white light… At half a mile, the light and the sound are almost instantaneous.

And then she got swept away, blown away, holding my brother on her arm… And they wound up underneath the debris.

My mother was knocked unconscious by one of the main beams supporting the house; she was blown away. She could actually remember the beam coming toward her that knocked her unconscious. And she was unconscious for less than ten minutes. And when she came to, everything was red.

My mother firmly believed her grandmother helped her to survive. Her grandmother. Because when she was unconscious, she heard the voice of a woman asking her to wake up, calling to her by name, three times: “Shizue, Shizue, Shizue, wake up…” And she woke up.

She could see nothing but red, and she felt heat. But she realized the house was not on fire yet. She went to find my brother and my sister.

Even though the house was completely crushed, the front entryway was intact. The sliding door was open, and every single glass pane on the door was not broken. So she was able to crawl out of that crushed, collapsed house, out to the street, with my sister and my brother.

But when she got out of the house she realized the city of Hiroshima was no longer there... Hiroshima Castle stood right next to us, for 400 years; it was gone... vanished. She could see... She could see the city was no longer there.

So without those voices, I will not be here today. And for me to survive all of the hardship, and talking to you today: it’s a miracle. So we are blessed. And I firmly believe that I have a purpose. So that's why I'm talking to you. And people need to know.

My father's Fifth Army headquarters, which was another three hundred yards away: she'd run, bare feet, for two or three hundred yards to my father's headquarters, and when she walked through the gate, she realized the entire fifth army headquarters was no longer there. All the building was gone except my father's civil engineering building. It was still standing; it was leaning, waiting to collapse.

My father survived because he was one step outside of the shadow of [an] overpass, so the back of his neck was burned and melted, but the rest of his body was intact. The bomb, it came from his back... He was in the shadow of the overpass, except his head. So he got blown out of the overpass, into a ditch, and he survived... Somehow, he composed himself, and got out of the ditch, and tried to run toward headquarters. His uniform started to fall apart, because of the extreme heat he was in. All the seams crumbled. So when he got to the gate of the Fifth Army, his entire uniform had disintegrated except his white t-shirt and white boxer shorts.

Yes, there is a common denominator between Hanford, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which is a radiation which we cannot see. It’s invisible, and tasteless. So the people do not understand when you tell them how devastating radiation could be. Fukushima: their nightmare is just beginning.

And I don't know whether you knew this or not, but people in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I’m talking about the hibakusha, the people that were exposed to the bomb, are shunned. Because the Japanese people firmly believe the victims are different from them; they’re damaged. So if I stayed in Japan, I would never be able to marry, I would never get a job with the government. Because they know statistically, the victims are not reliable. They get sick. And they produce defective babies. So no man or woman will ever marry, like myself.

My sister never married. She's a beautiful woman. She's seventy-six years old, today. But she'll tell you, if you ask her, why didn’t you marry? She’ll tell you, “I'm damaged.” That is the saddest story…

Well remember I told you that I was sick. So they have statistical information; we are different.

So, when you talk to Japanese people today, they don't want to be confronted. They want to forget it. But the people in Fukushima, their nightmare is just beginning. Because they’re going to be shunned. Because in order for them to get a job... You have to produce [a] birth certificate. As soon as they’ve found out either they lived there, or were born there, the company will not hire them.

Fukushima is known for beautiful, tasty peaches. Would you believe, the people in Japan would not buy that peach? Because they’re afraid of radiation exposure. Our government said, it’s okay, it’s safe. But look what happened to those people... So even though they keep saying it's safe, it’s okay, the people in Japan will not trust them.

So that is the untold story. Those are the untold stories that need to be told. You cannot get that prospective from visiting the museum in Hiroshima. Because even the Hiroshima Museum is cleansed, so they're not really showing the true picture of what happened.

I was there. He did not say anything; he did not come over to us. Remember: we were American. We were in the front. He didn’t come over to us. He just went to the Japanese survivors.

You have to understand, he was the first sitting President to visit Hiroshima. But I was hoping, he will say something about what happened to people in Hiroshima. At least he could acknowledge my sister and I, and some of the other American citizens that [were] exposed to the bomb. He did not say anything.

Pearl Harbor was a military installation. Nagasaki, and Hiroshima, was a civilian population. Women and children died. Pearl Harbor was strictly limited to the sailors… I cannot understand the correlation between Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Some people would tell me, “I don't want to hear your story.” Because I deserve what I got. Japanese started the war… Japanese people were here, and put in the camps. They suffered tremendously for years… They lost their belongings, they lost their property.

My grandfather was a messenger. He came out into the city looking for us, and he found us. Our family owned a huge mansion, big enough to put six hundred samurai on the property.

And after the war, we did not have much to eat because [the] government rationed what we could eat. So we were hungry. And my mother did everything she could to feed us. So she used to barter the food and our belongings so we could get vegetables, and rice... More than what the government gave to us, because what the government gave to us would not sustain us at all. I remember in the kitchen, my mother was standing and cutting the radishes, to look like rice; and a teaspoon full of rice, into the pot to cook, so we can have some rice...

We moved to Tokyo, we lived there until I was fifteen. She didn't want people in Tokyo to know about us, because she knew we will be shunned. So we kept to ourselves. We spoke very little about what we'd experienced.

All I knew was I was sick, trying to survive. It was not easy... And when I went to school, because I was falling behind every week, I was considered hopeless, stupid. So I didn’t want to go to school; I didn't want to study anymore, because it was too painful.

When I got married, my wife was ready to deliver my son. The doctor said we had to have a C-section. So he took us into his room, and was explaining to my wife and myself the procedures, showing the x-ray of my son, inside of my wife.

I don't know what the doctor told us. I was counting, looking at the x-ray, counting two eye sockets, ten fingers, ten toes… When I counted the last toe on his foot, I realized, this baby is going to look like [a] normal human being. So I succeeded in delivering a normal child. Up to that point, I wasn't sure, because we were told over and over, “You’re damaged.” So I wasn’t sure that I could have a normal baby... He’s six foot two, over two hundred ten pounds; he’s forty-five.

My wife and I talked about the outcome, and she was willing to risk it... If I stayed in Japan I would never have been able to do that.

I remember, I was invited to the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness.
One speaker that is a well-known PhD/nuclear scientist wanted to convince the audience that the effect of radiation is way overblown.
So I told him, “Excuse me, I was there when the bomb dropped. It’s not overblown."

You should have seen his face. He didn't think I was going to be there. This is a group of people that prepares for disasters, a group of doctors, goes out for hurricanes, tornadoes, flood, whatever… So there we were talking about nuclear attack... Preparing for nuclear attack...

What I went through was not a dream, or fiction. It was real. It’s not “overblown.” If they knew what I have been through to survive, they will not be able to say that, okay? If their wives’ babies, before delivery... If they were counting two eye sockets, ten toes, ten fingers: they would never say that.

My mother kept her kimono that she was wearing when the bomb dropped [on] August 6th,[1945], up to just before she passed away in June, 2007. Just before that she discarded the kimono, because she didn't want to be reminded. I think it was painful to her…

My sister... wasn’t able to convince her not to discard them. That is the only memory that we could put fingers on, as far as how terrible it was to survive at that moment… But I guess she didn’t want anybody to know.

But she talked to us every chance she could get, talked to us about what went on that day, and how we came to survive the bomb... Both of us were taught by my mother what happened that day…

I don't know why she kept it. She never mentioned it. She burned the kimono, burned, before she passed away. I guess to her, it was kind of symbolic. To her it was the final closure.

She never mentioned it to me. Probably in her mind, she wanted to keep that away from me.

She was wearing this kimono when she survived the blast. And it was blood-soaked; her blood was soaked on the kimono.

I think she was trying to protect me… Even though she talked to me over and over and over and over… what happened that day.