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Two Survivors : 40 Years Later, Victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Look Back

August 04, 1985|DAVID REYES | Times Staff Writer

Kazuo Yoshikawa was 15 years old and working in a Mazda weapons factory about three miles northeast of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945--the day the United States dropped an atom bomb on his city.

Yoshikawa remembered seeing blinding light, then the entire building collapsed around him.

"The walls came down, the roof collapsed and I ended up underneath a lot of wood and machinery," he recalled.

He suffered no radiation burns but lost all his hair three days later.

Tsuyuko Tarumoto was at home on Aug. 9, 1945, when a second atom bomb was dropped on her city, Nagasaki, Japan.

The house next door was destroyed. Tarumoto, then 18, hid in a closet. The move saved her life, although she suffered facial and body burns, cuts, and had her eyebrows singed by the blast's intense heat.

Tarumoto, now Tsuyuko (Dewie) Janzen, lives in Mission Viejo. Yoshikawa runs a landscaping business in Tustin. They are among the estimated 700 hibakushas --survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki--now living in the United States.

Anniversary Marked

This week, the world focuses attention on the survivors' collective past as it marks the 40th anniversary of the first unleashing of the atomic bomb.

Janzen, now 58, doesn't dwell on the past, not out of a fear but simply because more mundane matters take precedence now. She has her two fabric shops to worry about, and her chain-smoking habit. Another concern is whether Michael, her 19-year-old son and the family's would-be rock musician, will ever be discovered.

"He has his hair up like this," she said in an interview last week, rolling her eyes and putting both hands high above her head. "We told him that when we're outside the home, he better not say we're his mom and dad."

She thought for a moment, then came back to the subject of Nagasaki, observing: "That day was a long time ago."

Yoshikawa actually was born in Los Angeles but had moved to Japan at age 2 with his grandparents after his mother died. Now 55, he keeps a map of Hiroshima in the study of his Tustin home. But, like Janzen, he has other things on his mind. His landscaping business, his wife, Tatsuko, and three sons, ages 10, 11 and 17, keep him occupied, Yoshikawa said.

Once, the subject came up when one of his sons asked questions after he read about World War II and the atomic bomb in school.

"My children don't know about the atomic bomb," he said last week. "I pointed it out once in a picture in a book but they (were) too young to understand. People always want me to explain what it was like and what I saw. It's not the same to point to a picture."

Kaz Suyeishi of Los Angeles, who survived the Hiroshima blast and now is vice president of the Committee of Atomic Bomb Survivors, said that most survivors living in the United States choose to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardizing jobs and medical insurance.

"If they go public, they risk getting dropped by some insurance companies which don't cover such things as radiation sickness," Suyeishi said.

If fact, some survivors refrain from telling family members, friends, and, in some cases, their offspring.

"The children suffer too because they are second-generation victims," Suyeishi said. "But if they don't suffer any (medical) problems that are evident, the parents are reluctant to tell them."

Janzen said that fear of potential genetic radiation damage was a constant worry for both her and her husband, Bill, a former Marine Corps sergeant whom she met in Japan.

After Janzen had one miscarriage, the couple became concerned after she failed to get pregnant within a year.

'I Was Frightened'

"I was frightened and when I gave birth I was afraid my baby would be deformed," she said. "But he was normal. He looked so beautiful to me. I was so happy; he was just perfect."

Since 1972, the survivors' committee has monitored bills in Congress to provide health insurance and other compensation to A-bomb victims, but none has ever passed.

Yoshikawa said he agreed to be interviewed because he wants to encourage congressional approval of a health-compensation bill introduced earlier this year.

"I'm a self-employed landscaper so I have health insurance," he said. "But I'm doing this on behalf of others. There are a lot of older survivors, people who are poor and need help."

Yoshikawa and Janzen said they don't openly support the anti-nuclear movement, although they have been asked to participate. They also don't attend special observances that are annually held throughout the country or in Japan. Both said they are not eager to march in protest or participate in other ways.

"I guess if I were ever asked, I'd advise against the U.S. government's use of nuclear weapons or to stop making them because I've seen the results," Yoshikawa said.

And both said they harbor no ill will toward the United States.

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