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Simple Twists Of Fate

Tsutomu Yamaguchi (March 16, 1916 – January 4, 2010) has been an officially recognised Unluckest person in the world for surviving two atomic explosions. Although at least 70 people are known to have been affected by both bombings, he is the only person to have been officially recognised by the Government of Japan. The Japanese national was in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 when an atomic weapon was used in a war in a rare first by the US. Incidentally, Tsutomu was in Nagasaki when the US dropped another atom bomb on the north-western Japanese city three days later (on August 9, 1945). Oddly enough, his distance from Ground Zero was 3km each time! Although he became temporarily blind and also lost hearing in his left ear due to the intensity of the explosion, he managed to survive.

Tsutomu, a marine engineer by profession, used to design oil tankers for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a Japanese multinational engineering, electrical equipment and electronics corporation headquartered in Tokyo. He was in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 for official purposes. The engineer was due to return home in Nagasaki on that fateful day after a three-month tour. Tsutomu and his two colleagues planned to leave Hiroshima at dawn. Although the two colleagues caught a Nagasaki-bound train, Tsutomu had to go back to his Hiroshima office as he left his identity card (essential for availing Government services) there. When he was about to reach the Mitsubishi office at around 8:15am (local time), the city was bombed. Later, Tsutomu mentioned in his book, titled ‘Ikasareteiru inochi’, that he had seen two parachutes coming out from the US bomber. Then, there was “a great flash in the sky, and I was blown over“, he wrote in his memoirs.

Tsutomu in 1945

The then 29-year-old Tsutomu had his eardrums ruptured in that explosion. He also went blind for a while, as the huge chemical radiation burnt the upper part of his body. After regaining consciousness, he first looked for his two colleagues. Later, injured Tsutomu boarded a train to Nagasaki. Strangely, the atomic explosion did not disrupt the train services in Hiroshima. He reached Nagasaki on August 7, and joined duty on August 9. As expected, his colleagues were surprised to see him. When he was giving the details of the Hiroshima incident to his superiors at around 11am, the US dropped the second atomic bomb in Nagasaki! Tsutomu survived the explosion, yet again. Although the marine engineer received no serious injuries this time, he suffered from fever for a week and also started vomiting. In 1950, Tsutomu started working as a translator. Later, he re-joined Mitsubishi and started living a normal life.

Incidentally, Tsutomu’s wife, too, was in Nagasaki when the US dropped the atomic bomb there. The couple not only survived the attack, but also became parents of two daughters, later. Tsutomu mentioned in his publication that he wanted to somehow forget the horrible experience at that period of time. He was relieved to think that it was a past event. As he grew older, his opinions about the use of atomic weapons began to change. Even then, he was only a survivor of the Nagasaki explosion in the official register. No one had any idea about his Hiroshima experience. However, his children, too, were carrying the marks of that horrible experience and physical damage on their bodies.

In his 80s, Tsutomu decided to pen down his experience, as he wanted to tell the people about the horrors of nuclear weapons. His publication (Ikasareteiru inochi) shocked the global community. A documentary on his life, titled ‘Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’, was made in 2006, and screened even in the US. In that documentary, Tsutomu twice urged the powerful nations not to use an atomic bomb. While pleading for the abolition of atomic weapons, he stressed: “The reason that I hate the atomic bomb is because of what it does to the dignity of human beings.” He added: “I can’t understand why the world cannot understand the agony of the nuclear bombs. How can they keep developing these weapons?

On December 22, 2009, Canadian film director James Cameron and author Charles Pellegrino met Tsutomu while he was in a hospital in Nagasaki, and discussed the idea of making a film about nuclear weapons. Tsutomu’s daughter recalled that he was constantly swathed in bandages until she reached the age of 12. Despite this, Tsutomu went on to lead a healthy life. Late in his life, he began to suffer from radiation-related ailments, including cataracts and acute leukemia.

When James Cameron met Tsutomu

His wife also suffered radiation poisoning from black rain after the Nagasaki explosion and died in 2008 (at the age of 88) of kidney and liver cancer. Their children reported suffering from health problems, as they blamed on their parents’ exposures. In 2009, Tsutomu learned that he was dying of stomach cancer. As radiation had a severe effect on his body, he started suffering from leukemia. Later, he came to know that he was also suffering from kidney and liver cancer. At this point of time, Tsutomu felt that the Government of Japan should acknowledge his experience of surviving two atomic explosions so that awareness could be created in the public mind about nuclear weapons in future. He informed the Government about his experience, and made an appeal in this regard. It was accepted by the Japanese Government in March 2009, making Tsutomu the only person officially recognised as a survivor of both bombings. Speaking of the recognition, he said: “My double radiation exposure is now an official government record. It can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die.

Watch: The Man Who Survived Two Atomic Bombs

Tsutomu passed away in January 2010. In December 2010, the BBC featured the Japanese national in its comedy programme QI, referring to him as ‘The Unluckiest Man in the World’. After being criticised for presenting him sarcastically, the national broadcaster of the UK deleted a clip from the episode, and also issued a statement, stressing: “We instructed our crew to delete the file since we have already issued a statement that the content was not appropriate.” The BBC also gave late Tsutomu a new name, ‘The Unluckest Man’. It was acknowledged by Japan during his lifetime.

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