Tsutomu Yamaguchi was a marine engineer who survived the World War II atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He is the only person who has been officially recognized as having survived both explosions by the Japanese government.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi: The luckiest man alive?
Tsutomu Yamaguchi was planning to leave Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb fell. Tsutomu was a naval engineer who was on a three-month-long business trip for Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, and August 6, was his last day in the city. He spent the summer working long hours with his colleagues, and was planning to return to his wife and infant son as soon as his trip was over.
Tsutomu was walking to Mitsubishi’s shipyard for the final time on the morning of August 6 when he heard the drone of an aircraft overhead. When he looked up, he noticed an American B-29 bomber flying over the city, dropping a small object attached to a parachute.
Suddenly the area erupted with chaos, luckily Tsutomu had enough time to escape and into a ditch and save himself. The accompanying shock wave sucked Yamaguchi from the ground, spun him in the air like a tornado, and hurled him into a nearby potato patch. He’d been less than two miles from the epicenter of the disaster.
Yamaguchi recalls seeing the bomber and two small parachutes before “there was a great flash in the sky, and I was blown over.”
The explosion ruptured his eardrums, temporarily blinded him, and left him with severe radiation burns on the left side of his upper body. He crawled to a shelter and set out to find his colleagues as soon as he recovered.
Yamaguchi and his friends stayed in an air raid shelter that night before returning to Nagasaki the next day. He received treatment for his wounds in Nagasaki and, despite being heavily bandaged, reported for work on August 9.
Surviving the Nagasaki Bombing
At 11:00 AM on 9 August 1945, Yamaguchi was describing the blast in Hiroshima to his supervisor, when the American bomber Bockscar dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb over the city. His workplace again put him 3 km from ground zero, but this time he was unhurt by the explosion.
The atomic bomb that hit Nagasaki was even more powerful than the one that hit Hiroshima, but as Yamaguchi would later discover, the city’s hilly terrain and a reinforced stairwell had combined to muffle the blast inside the office. His bandages were blown off, and he was exposed to another burst of cancer-causing radiation, but he escaped relatively unscathed.
He’d had the misfortune of being within two miles of a nuclear explosion for the second time in three days. He’d been fortunate enough to survive for the second time.
Yamaguchi’s double-dose of radiation took its toll in the days that followed. His hair fell out, his arm wounds became gangrenous, and he began vomiting incessantly. On August 15, he was still trapped in a bomb shelter with his family when Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced the country’s surrender via radio broadcast. “I had no feelings about it,” Yamaguchi later admitted to The New York Times. “I wasn’t sorry, nor was I glad. I was severely ill, with a fever, eating almost nothing, and barely drinking. “I was about to cross to the other side,” I thought.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi was not the only person who had to endure two nuclear blasts. His coworkers Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato, as well as Shigeyoshi Morimoto, a kite maker who had miraculously survived Hiroshima despite being only a half-mile from ground zero, were also in Nagasaki when the second bomb fell.
Despite the fact that 165 people were possibly affected by both attacks, Yamaguchi was the only person officially recognized by the Japanese government as a “nijyuu hibakusha,” or “twice-bombed person.” He finally received the honor in 2009, just a year before his death at the age of 93.
Yamaguchi was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2009. He died on January 4, 2010, at the age of 93, in Nagasaki.
Now that you’ve read about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, you might also like reading about Roy Sullivan, the man who was struck by lightning 7 times and survived each on of them.