Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1152
Six people begin their day routinely on August 6, 1945. Dr. Fujii sits on his porch in his underwear, reading the newspaper. Dr. Sasaki arrives at Red Cross Hospital a little earlier than usual and begins treating patients. The Reverend Tanimoto helps a parishioner move belongings from a house in the suburbs. Father Kleinsorge lies down on his cot to read after morning mass. Mrs. Nakamura gives her three children some peanuts to eat while they rest on their mats. Miss Sasaki sits down at her desk to begin work. Each of these people survives the explosion of an atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at 8:15 that morning.
Immediately following the explosion, Mr. Tanimoto begins to help others, often feeling ashamed that he has not been injured. He accompanies many of the members of his neighborhood association to Asano Park, a designated gathering place for the group. Father Kleinsorge and his fellow Jesuits also go to Asano Park because their designated “safe area” is afire. Mrs. Nakamura takes her children to Asano Park, where they wait with others for food and help.
Miss Sasaki spends the hours after the explosion caught under bookcases and building beams that have twisted and broken her left leg under her; the rubble and her injuries prevent her from pulling herself out of the ruins of her office. After several men extricate her and prop her up under a metal lean-to, she waits with two other badly wounded survivors.
Dr. Sasaki and Dr. Fujii are among the few physicians who survive the bombing. Dr. Sasaki, having taken a pair of glasses from an injured nurse to replace his broken ones, treats the wounded and dying. Dr. Fujii has to extricate himself from the crossed beams of his ruined home and private hospital. With a broken collarbone and many lesser injuries, he is not able to care for other wounded people. He walks to his family’s house on the outskirts of town to spend the first night after the bombing.
Until the surrender of Japan on August 15, Mr. Tanimoto continues to help others, procuring rice from an army aid station and taking water to survivors in Asano Park. Dr. Sasaki treats the wounded at the hospital for three days after the bombing, working with almost no sleep. He goes to his mother’s house to rest for a day, then returns to the hospital. Father Kleinsorge also helps and comforts the wounded in Asano Park and helps take survivors to the Novitiate in the hills beyond the edge of the city.
Miss Sasaki is moved from a military hospital to a school that has quickly been converted to a hospital. Mrs. Nakamura and her children, who also suffer from the effects of the bomb, leave the city to stay with family. During the year after the war ended, Mrs. Nakamura manages to rent a small wooden shack and send her children back to school. She spends all of her savings. Miss Sasaki, now crippled and no longer engaged to be married, leaves the hospital nine months after the explosion. She converts to Catholicism under the instruction of Father Kleinsorge. Mr. Tanimoto continues to minister to parishioners’ needs despite having lost his church building. Dr. Fujii loses another home, this time to a flood, but buys a clinic in a suburb of Hiroshima, where he resumes practicing medicine. Dr. Sasaki continues as a physician at Red Cross Hospital and is married in March, 1946. All six people suffer in varying degrees from symptoms of radiation poisoning, ranging from energy loss to hair loss and blood disorders.
Over the next forty years, Mrs. Nakamura brings up her children and supports them and herself in a series of jobs she works whenever she has sufficient energy. She retires at the age of fifty-five from a job with a chemical plant. She joins a folk music group and enjoys enough financial security to be able to travel, among other places to a shrine to soldiers in Tokyo.
For five years after the bombing, Dr. Sasaki continues to practice at Red Cross Hospital, often doing surgery (with mixed success) to remove extensive scarring from radiation burns. In 1951, he goes into private practice, and from that point on he prospers. He never investigates medical effects of the bombing, concentrating instead on expanding his practice. In 1963, he undergoes surgery for lung cancer, which brings him near death, an experience that changes his approach to practicing medicine from interest in the financial rewards to a new focus on its inherent satisfactions. He eventually establishes a home for elderly patients. Although he dwells little on the bombing, Dr. Sasaki expresses one regret, that in the first days after the bombing, he was unable to keep good records of deaths or to store the ashes appropriately.
Father Kleinsorge, in the forty years after the explosion, is repeatedly hospitalized for treatment of radiation sickness, but he continues to proselytize tirelessly for his faith. He becomes a Japanese citizen and takes a new name, Father Makoto Takakura. Father Takakura is especially effective working with other atomic bomb survivors, with whom he feels a strong kinship and an understanding unmatched in other relationships. He dies in 1977 after a long illness and is buried on a hill above the Nagatsuke Novitiate; his grave is almost continually decorated with fresh flowers.
One of Father Takakura’s converts to Catholicism, Miss Sasaki, spends years helping to support her younger siblings. Then, at the suggestion of Father Takakura, she enters the convent, taking her vows in 1957 as Sister Dominique Sasaki. She cares for orphans as well as retirees and finds her greatest strength in helping people feel less lonely while they die.
Dr. Fujii returns to medical practice in Hiroshima and builds a new clinic in 1948 on the site of the old one. His recommended treatments to fellow survivors include techniques for relaxing; he also recommends having an alcoholic drink at regular intervals. He eventually builds an American-style house and continues to enjoy the better things in life. By early 1964, however, Dr. Fujii’s health deteriorates, and his last eleven years are spent in limited awareness.
The Reverend Tanimoto continues to preach and minister to the citizens of Hiroshima in the years after the bombing, despite a lack of funds and his own lessened energies. He travels to the United States several times to raise money for the peace movement and for American plastic surgery on young women badly scarred by the bomb. He also gives lectures on his experiences. On one trip, his life is featured on a popular television show, This Is Your Life. His work in the United States distances him from the Japanese peace movement, however, for many perceive him to be seeking personal recognition. Tanimoto develops relationships with both Norman Cousins, an American evangelist and motivational speaker, and the American novelist Pearl S. Buck. After retiring in 1982, Mr. Tanimoto lives comfortably in Hiroshima.