Yamaguchi was working with 'Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' in Nagasaki when World War II broke out. He had joined the organization in the 1930s, as a draftsman designing oil tankers. However, over time, the Japanese industry was negatively impacted due to scarce available resources. The demand for tankers, too, had reduced.
With time, Yamaguchi went into depression and once even considered killing his family by giving them sleeping pills, if Japan lost the war.
In the summer of 1945, Yamaguchi traveled to Hiroshima on a business trip. His 3-month-long trip ended, and he was about to leave on August 6, 1945, the day the atom bomb was dropped on the city.
On that fateful day, he was on his way to the station with two colleagues, Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato. He, however, had to return to take his travel stamp (''hanko''), which he had left back in his office.
At around 8:15 am, he heard the buzz of an aircraft overhead while walking toward the shipyard of 'Mitsubishi.' Within a few moments, he witnessed the American 'B-29' bomber 'Enola Gay' dropping a small object attached to a parachute. Little did he know that it was the deadly bomb called 'Little Boy.'
The bomb was dropped near the center of the city, which was just 3 km away. According to Yamaguchi, he saw two small parachutes, and soon the sky was ablaze. Within moments, there was a huge bang, and he was blown away. A tornado-like gust of air then flung him away, dropping him near a potato patch.
His eardrums were ruptured and he was blinded. He also had serious burns all over his left torso. He fainted for a while, as told to the British newspaper 'The Times.'
Surrounded by torrents of ash, he saw a cloud of fire in the shape of a mushroom.
Upon gaining consciousness, he managed to get shelter. After a while, he went out, looking for his colleagues.
Luckily, they, too, had survived. Yamaguchi and his colleagues got inside an air-raid shelter and spent the night there. The following day, they set off to Nagasaki.
In Nagasaki, his wounds were bandaged. He had pain and bruises all over. Incidentally, the doctor who treated him at the hospital, a former schoolmate of his, could not recognize Yamaguchi due to his blackened burns.
His family also could not recognize him at first. His mother even thought he was a ghost. However, despite the fever and the pain, he resumed work on August 9.
At 11 am, in a meeting with a company director, he was recounting the whole bombing incident in Hiroshima. All of a sudden, they heard an explosion outside.
The explosion was caused by the atomic bomb 'Fat Man,' which was more powerful than 'Little Boy,' dropped by the American bomber 'Bockscar.’
Yamaguchi was thrown to the ground when his office building shook from the impact of the blast. Nagasaki's rocky landscape and a bolstered stairwell saved his office building from turning into debris.
Once again, he was just a few kilometers away from ground zero. However, he was not hurt this time, though his bandages were ruined.
Yamaguchi immediately rushed to look for his wife and son. He skipped a heartbeat, when he saw his house had been reduced to rubble. Fortunately, both his wife and son were safe, though they had sustained external injuries.
Apparently, his wife, along with the baby, had gone out to get a burn ointment for him. They had taken shelter inside a tunnel after the explosion took place.
Yamaguchi believed that his injuries from the Hiroshima bombing had saved his family from getting killed in the Nagasaki explosion.
Due to double exposure to the cancer-causing radiation emitted from the explosions, he suffered from a high fever and continuous vomiting throughout the following week. Additionally, he lost his hair and his wounds turned gangrenous.
On August 15, while Yamaguchi was still struggling in a bomb shelter with his family, Japan's emperor, Hirohito, made a radio announcement stating that Japan had surrendered. The news, however, had no impact on Yamaguchi. He was battling his ailments and had even thought he might die.
The ruptured eardrums left Yamaguchi completely deaf in his left ear. He also went bald temporarily and was covered in bandages until his daughter turned 12.
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Unlike so many other victims who had survived the explosion but had later succumbed to the radiation exposure, Yamaguchi slowly recovered and went back to living a normal life.
He served as a translator for the U.S. armed forces during the ‘Allied’ occupation of Japan and later taught in a school. He also resumed his job at 'Mitsubishi.'
He had two daughters in the 1950s.
According to sources, there were around 165 people who might have experienced both the attacks, but Yamaguchi was the only one whom the Japanese government officially recognized as a "hibakusha" in 1957.
However, his presence in both the cities during their respective bombings was highly disputed. His alibi suggested that he was present only in Nagasaki. Yamaguchi did not object, as he was grateful for his new life and did not expect any sort of recognition at that point.
However, in January 2009, he appealed for double recognition. He finally won the distinction in March 2009, just a year before he died at the age of 93.
Yamaguchi poured out the horrific memories of the explosions through poetry. However, he deliberately did not share the experience in public until the 2000s, as he did not wish to draw any attention.
He eventually participated in the anti-atomic movement and released a memoir titled 'Ikasareteiru inochi.'
In 2006, he was featured in the documentary titled 'Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki' ('nijū hibakusha' in Japanese). At the screening of the film at the 'United Nations' in New York, he delivered a speech on nuclear disarmament.
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He also wrote to President Obama about banning nuclear arms.
On December 22, 2009, while Yamaguchi was in a hospital in Nagasaki, Canadian movie director James Cameron and author Charles Pellegrino met him to discuss a film about nuclear weapons.
On December 17, 2010, Yamaguchi was referred to as "The Unluckiest Man in the World" in the 'BBC' comedy program 'QI.' In a segment that included black humor, host Stephen Fry and celebrity guests were shown laughing at Yamaguchi's experience and asking silly questions. They wondered if the bomb ''landed on him and bounced off."
Though the clip was aired, it was later deleted. A 'BBC' spokesperson later reported to 'Kyodo News' that the channel had instructed the crew to delete the file and not air it, as they had already issued a statement that the content was inappropriate.
The clip was highly criticized in Japan, as it was a sheer insult to the deceased victims of the horrific incident. Yamaguchi's daughter, Toshiko Yamasaki, expressed her disappointment on the insensitive act on 'NHK's national evening news.
The ‘Japanese Embassy’ in London, too, wrote to ‘BBC,’ protesting against the program. Piers Fletcher, a producer of the program, later apologized on behalf of the channel.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Tsutomu Yamaguchi was born on March 16, 1916.
He was married to Hisako. The couple had a son named Katsutoshi and two daughters.
In his final years, he suffered from several ailments, such as cataract and acute leukemia, all induced by his exposure to atomic radiation.
In 2009, Yamaguchi was diagnosed with stomach cancer. However, this was not due to the radiation caused by the bombings.
He died on January 4, 2010, in Nagasaki. The Japanese government sponsored his funeral.