After the explosion, Reverend Tanimoto stares at the wounded soldiers crawling out of their dugout. He sees an old woman with a small child in her arms; Tanimoto carries the child and leads the old woman down the street to a grammar school that has been designated as an emergency base. Inside, Tanimoto is amazed to see dozens of injured people.
Tanimoto sprang into action: as a religious leader, he’d spent most of his life learning how to help other people. Tanimoto had no way of understanding what had just happened to his city, but he knew that it was his duty to make sure other people were all right.
Tanimoto runs back to the garden outside the house where he’d been carrying the cabinet. From this high point, he can see that Hiroshima is covered in smoke, and he wonders how the Americans could have caused so much damage without a huge fleet of airplanes. He suddenly hears Mr. Matsuo calling out. Tanimoto begins to worry for his wife and child, as well as his congregants. He runs back into the city center.
Much like Mrs. Nakamura, Tanimoto instinctively thought about his family and his church congregants (although Nakamura did so right away, while Tanimoto took a few minutes). Very bravely, he ran into the city, toward the explosion.
Hatsuyo Nakamura crawls through the ruins of her house, toward her youngest child, Myeko. As she moves, she hears the crying voices of her two other children. Faced with a dilemma, Nakamura turns away from Myeko—who is clearly breathing—and toward her other two children, Toshio and Yaeko. Underneath some wreckage, she finds Toshio and Yaeko. Miraculously, neither child is injured. Nakamura gathers her children and brings them outside. Myeko asks, “Why is it night already?”
Nakamura immediately tries to rescue her three children from the wreckage—miraculously, all three are alive. Myeko’s heartbreaking question exemplifies the shock and awe that the Hiroshima bombing provoked around the world: childish as the question was, Nakamura didn’t have any idea how to answer it.
Nakamura’s neighbor, Mrs. Nakamoto (wife of Mr. Nakamoto), runs to the house and asks Nakamura if she has any bandages; Nakamura gives her a white cloth. Nakamura also finds that her sewing machine—her only source of money—has survived the bomb. She decides to store it in the water tank outside her home and then she leaves her house, along with her children and a neighboring family. Carrying a blanket, some clothes, and a suitcase, Nakamura and the others venture toward Asano Park nearby. On their walk, they only see one other building still standing—the Jesuit mission house, from which Father Kleinsorge emerged, carrying a suitcase of his own.
In the chaos following the Hiroshima bombing, thousands of Hiroshimans must have thought that the world was coming to an end. And yet, at least according to the book, Hiroshimans behaved compassionately—instead of hoarding bandages, for example, they shared them, ensuring that everyone was safe. It’s remarkable how little immoral behavior of any kind there is in the book: no Hiroshimans fighting over food, looting stores, or doing any of the other unsavory things that people have been known to do in disasters.
Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge wanders out to the garden outside his mission; meanwhile another priest, Father LaSalle, runs around the corner of the building, covered in blood, followed by two other priests, one of whom, Father Schiffer, is badly cut. The young daughter of Mr. Hoshijima, the mission catechist, runs up to Kleinsorge, saying that her mother and sister have been crushed in wreckage. Kleinsorge runs to help the mission catechist’s family, while Father LaSalle helps others out from under the wreckage. Luckily, Kleinsorge is able to free Mrs. Hoshijima and her daughter. Then he runs to save some of his things from his room. Somehow, his flimsy, papier-mâché suitcase, which contained his account books, his money, and his breviary, has survived the bombing—an event that he attributes to God’s mercy.
After Hiroshima, Father Kleinsorge immediately began helping others. He saved people from the wreckage of their houses, at times risking his own safety to do so. The passage strongly implies that Kleinsorge behaved the way he did because of his religious faith. Even in a moment of horrendous destruction, Kleinsorge continued to believe in God and God’s mercy—as a result, he continued to behave morally, help other people, and risk his own safety.
Dr. Fujii is still in the river, struggling beneath two beams that had once been a part of his hospital building. He is able to free himself from the beams and wade out of the river—somehow, he hasn’t been seriously injured. As he runs away from the river, he sees a colleague, Dr. Machii. They wonder why there are few fires in sight—as one would expect fire in the aftermath of a bombing, especially considering how many burn victims are moving through the streets. Fujii helps his servants to free themselves from the hospital wreckage. However, four nurses, two patients, and his niece die that day.
Dr. Fujii and Dr. Machii tried to understand the explosion that had just destroyed their city, but of course couldn’t—at the time, only a few people on the planet even knew that it was possible to power a bomb with nuclear fission. While there weren’t many fires in sight at the moment, fires gradually broke out for the rest of the day: the atomic bomb had been enormously hot, and most of the surviving buildings in Hiroshima were made of wood. Also, notice that even Dr. Fujii, whom Hersey described as a fundamentally self-interested person, helps free others from the wreckage.
There were about 150 doctors living in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945—approximately sixty-five die immediately. The city’s hospitals are in ruins, like most other buildings. The only uninjured doctor in the Red Cross Hospital is Dr. Sasaki, who is frantically gathering bandages from the storeroom. Without his glasses, Sasaki can barely walk—he grabs a pair of glasses off a wounded nurse’s face and gets to work helping the most serious burn victims. Sasaki tries to focus on one patient at a time, but the hospital is full of screaming, wounded people. In the city itself, 100,000 people have been wounded in the explosion, in addition to the 100,000 who’ve died immediately. Forced to work quickly, Sasaki “becomes an automaton,” mechanically treating each patient.
After the explosion, there were thousands in need of medical care, but very few doctors to provide that care. Sasaki, one of the only uninjured doctors left in the city, seems to have gone into a state of shock following the explosion. In emergencies, people sometimes behave as Sasaki does here: they become automatons, shedding emotion and calmly doing exactly what they need to do.
In the East Asia Tin Works office, Toshiko Sasaki lies on the floor, crushed by books. After about three hours she regains consciousness and immediately becomes aware of a pain in her leg. She hears voices calling, “Please help!”
Toshiko Sasaki, like so many of the victims of Hiroshima, was horribly injured but had nobody to take care of her.
Father Kleinsorge treats priests’ injuries with bandages that Dr. Fujii gave him a few days before. Then, he runs into the mission and puts on his military uniform. Staring out at the thousands of wounded people, Kleinsorge feels a strange sense of apathy. Suddenly, a woman calls for his help—her husband is buried under her house, which has just caught fire. Kleinsorge runs to the house, but doesn’t hear anything when he shouts for the woman’s husband. The house is burning down—Kleinsorge shouts, “We must get away or we will all die.”
As the book goes on, readers begin to realize that some of the characters know one another—Kleinsorge and Fujii are friends, for instance. Notice that even Kleinsorge experiences a brief moment of apathy—a sense that there is too much pain and suffering for him to be of any use. But then, when a woman cries out, Kleinsorge’s moral instincts kick in, and he resumes helping others.
A kindergarten teacher points Father Kleinsorge to the mission, where the secretary, Mr. Fukai, is standing by a window, weeping. Kleinsorge runs to the slowly burning building, where he finds Mr. Fukai in a state of eerie calm. Fukai asks Kleinsorge to leave him alone, but Kleinsorge begs him, “Come with me or you’ll die.” When Fukai refuses, Kleinsorge, along with another priest, forcibly pull Fukai out of the building. Fukai murmurs, “I won’t leave.” As Kleinsorge looks out in the distance, he sees fires breaking out in the few buildings left standing. When Kleinsorge notices a group of passing soldiers, he asks them to keep an eye on Mr. Fukai, but it is too late—Fukai runs away from Kleinsorge, back into the burning mission.
Mr. Fukai is one of the most mysterious characters in the book, and it’s never entirely explained why he behaves so strangely following the explosion. In crises, however, people sometimes lose their sense of self-preservation, or feel a strong sense of survivor’s guilt. This suggests that Mr. Fukai may have been a perfectly ordinary person who, in the midst of an emergency, lost all reason and willingly threw himself into danger.
Mr. Tanimoto runs into the city of Hiroshima, desperate to find his family and his church. He brushes shoulders with hundreds of people fleeing the city center, many of whom are severely injured. Most of these people are totally silent. Tanimoto makes his way over the Kannon Bridge, and, as he gets closer to the city center, the destruction grows more severe. He passes by thousands of ruined buildings and burning houses. He feels overwhelmed with shock, and he also feels guilty for being unharmed. As he passes others, he mutters, “Excuse me for having no burden like yours.”
As Tanimoto looked at the thousands of horribly injured people passing by, he felt ashamed that he wasn’t injured, too. Such a reaction isn’t uncommon during emergencies. Furthermore, Tanimoto’s behavior suggests why he risked his own safety to help other people following the bombing: his sense of survivor’s guilt, in addition to his religious faith, impelled him to act selflessly.
Tanimoto comes to a large Shinto shrine surrounded by burning buildings. There, by incredible coincidence, he runs into his wife, who is carrying their infant child. Instead of embracing his wife, he simply says, “Oh, you are safe.” She explains that she’d nearly been buried in the wreckage of her home, and that she is going to the suburb of Ushida. Mr. Tanimoto nods and says he wants to visit his church. They part without another word.
Strangely, Tanimoto didn’t express much emotion around his wife and child—one would assume that he would have been overjoyed to see them. Hersey doesn’t provide much information about why Tanimoto reacted so passively, but it’s possible that he was still in shock, or that he was so anxious about his church congregants that he didn’t have time to express his feelings fully.
Mr. Tanimoto continues toward his neighborhood, which is full of injured, bleeding people. He notices a small boat ferrying people across the river into Asano Park; Tanimoto jumps into the boat and travels across, into the park, where he finds some of his neighbors and Neighborhood Association colleagues. He also notices Father Kleinsorge, a friend, but can’t find his friend Mr. Fukai. Kleinsorge simply says, “He ran back.”
By this point, Mr. Fukai had run into the burning building and, presumably, was dead—however, Kleinsorge didn’t go into any detail about what happened, perhaps recognizing that Tanimoto didn’t need to hear such a painful piece of information right away.
Toshiko Sasaki hears voices crying out for help. She begins calling back to them—the closest person to her, she quickly finds, is a high school girl who’s been working in the factory. A while later, a digger finds his way into Sasaki’s office. Seeing that Sasaki’s leg has been crushed under the bookcase, he calls some other men to drag her outside, where it is raining. Sasaki’s leg is badly broken, and as a result Sasaki spends the morning in the courtyard with two other victims.
Of the six main characters in the book, Toshiko Sasaki arguably had the toughest experience on the day of the bombing: she spent her day in excruciating pain and without medical care of any kind. Sasaki’s experience is emblematic of the experiences of thousands of other Hiroshimans who survived the explosion only to spend the next couple hours—or days—in agony.
The former head of the Catholic priests’ Neighborhood Association is a man named Yoshida. As Mrs. Nakamura and her children, along with Father Kleinsorge and Mr. Fukai, run through the streets, Yoshida cries out for help from beneath the ruins of his house. But there are so many other people crying for help that nobody notices him. As he cries out, Yoshida sees the mission house go up in flames. Frantic, Yoshida manages to free himself from the rubble and run away from the fire.
In the chaos following the explosion over Hiroshima, thousands of people were trapped underneath the ruins of their houses. There were so many people in need of help that some of them had to free themselves and, presumably, many more were crushed or suffocated to death.
Dr. Fujii wades into the river to avoid the heat of the fire. Along with his two surviving nurses, he moves along the river to a sandspit near Asano Park. There, Dr. Machii sits with his family, including his daughter, who is horribly burned. Fujii begins to feel ashamed of his appearance—he is still dressed in nothing but his underwear from that morning, He stares out at the victims of the bombing and wonders what kind of bomb could have caused so much damage. That evening, he makes his way to his family’s house, miles away. The house is in ruins.
It’s telling that Dr. Fujii was ashamed of his half-naked appearance, whereas Tanimoto was ashamed for being alive and uninjured. This comparison might suggest that Fujii was a less compassionate, more self-interested person than Tanimoto. While Tanimoto helped save people from the wreckage, Fujii didn’t seem to have a strong instinct to help—and as he walked to his family’s house, he seemed not to be thinking about the victims at all.
All day long, the population of Hiroshima floods into Asano Park. The park is far enough from the bombsite that its flora is still alive. Mrs. Nakamura and her children arrive at the park and later become so nauseated that they begin to retch and vomit. There is a strong odor of ionization (“electric smell”) in the air, and some people think that the Americans have dropped gas on the city. Father Kleinsorge and the other priests come into the park, and Father LaSalle falls asleep almost immediately.
Strangely, the Hiroshima bombing caused the plants in the city to flourish, even while it destroyed most of the animal and human life. There was a palpable smell of ash and decay in the air, and quite understandably, the survivors of the disaster assumed that they were being gassed—reminding readers that, at first, nobody knew what kind of weapon had been dropped on the city.
Mr. Tanimoto arrives in the park, where he finds it difficult to distinguish between the living and the dead people gathered there. Tanimoto greets Kleinsorge and the other priests, who are gathering water from the river to give to burn victims. Tanimoto walks along the river, searching for a boat to transport bomb victims away from danger. He finds a small punt, in which there are three dead bodies, and removes the bodies, murmuring, “Please forgive me for taking this boat. I must use it for others, who are alive.”
It’s telling that Mr. Tanimoto committed one, and only one, morally dubious act during the day of the bombing—he stole a boat in order to transport other people to safety. Even when the characters in Hersey’s book do something “wrong,” they do so for the greater good of their fellow Hiroshimans.
Later in the day, a fire breaks out in the woods near Asano Park. A team begins filling buckets of water to put out the fire. However, the crowd begins to edge closer and closer to the river. This makes it difficult for the team to fill their buckets, and it also pushes people into the water, some of whom drown.
This is one of the remarkably few passages in the book in which Hersey gives readers a sense of the chaos and disorganization of the survivors of the explosion: despite an effort to prevent further harm, some survivors of the explosion died in the panic caused by the fires.
The sound of airplanes fills the air, and people naturally assume that there is another attack. Someone yells out for victims to take off their white clothing in order to hide from the planes. The airplanes pass overhead, evidently part of a reconnaissance mission of some kind. Then, it begins to rain. However, some people believe that the rain is really gasoline, which the Americans are dropping on the city in preparation for another bombing. A rumor circulates that the city was destroyed by a single plane, which sprayed the city with gasoline and then ignited it.
Understandably, the survivors of the explosions assumed that they were going to be attacked again—after all, the last American plane to fly overhead had wrought devastation. The rumors about how Hiroshima was destroyed might seem ridiculous in retrospect, but at the time they were no less plausible than the idea that the American military had set off a bomb by splitting an atom.
The rain subsides, and Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge resume helping the bombing victims. Tanimoto and Kleinsorge decide to run into town to get rice from the mission shelter, but when they arrive they find that the shelter is nothing but ashes now. However, Kleinsorge finds that a pumpkin from the garden outside has roasted on the vine—quickly, he eats some of it. Kleinsorge and Tanimoto gather pumpkins, along with potatoes that have been baked in the ground. In the end, this food is enough to feed almost a hundred people.
Tanimoto and Kleinsorge continued to act selflessly. Although they ate some food from the garden before sharing it with others, they succeeded in feeding over a hundred people with the produce they harvested. The irony here is also notable: the bomb destroyed so much, and yet it also prepared food to help save those who survived.
As evening falls, Mr. Tanimoto encounters his neighbor, a young woman named Mrs. Kamai. She begs him to help her find her husband, who had been inducted into the army the day before. Knowing he has no way of finding this man (who is probably dead, since he must have been in the city’s army barracks) he just says, “I’ll try.”
Many of the Hiroshima survivors lost friends or family in the explosion, but weren’t yet willing to accept their loved ones’ deaths. Tanimoto’s decision not to tell Kamai the obvious truth—her husband was dead—was arguably one of his gentlest and most merciful acts.