With a Flash of Light: The Sayoko Pass Story

Written by: Sarah Kakusho

"If you've seen a picture of jigoku [Hell]," Mrs. Pass stated, "it was ten times worse than that." Sayoko Pass, age 77, was one of the many victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Just before the bombing on August 6, 1945, Mrs. Pass, then only 18 years-old, washed the aprons and headbands in her family's home, while watching over her mother. She lived with her sister and her ill-stricken mother. At the time, her sister left the house to call the doctor for their mother. As she continued her washing, she heard a very distant and indistinct "vroom, vroom, vroom" in the sky. She thought nothing of it, since there were no familiar air raid warnings, so she returned to her cleaning.

Suddenly, a flash of light appeared. "It was like a flash of camera before I found myself trapped under the rubble of my two-story house with shattered glass covering my face and with only one free arm. I couldn't move the rest of my body," Mrs. Pass reminisced. "I cried out, 'Help! Help!' hoping my mom would hear me." In the meantime, Mrs. Pass heard fire ablaze somewhere around her. Her mind raced, as she attempted to use her loose arm to escape, although her efforts were helpless. Within the crackling of the fire, she heard her mother calling her name. "'I'm here! I'm here!' I yelled out waving my hand." Her mother saw her and left again to search for help. "I thought she would never come back. I heard the fire coming closer." After waiting, her mom came back with two men to free her from the house's grasp. "Five minutes later, my house burned down."

Handing Mrs. Pass a pair of straw sandals and a blanket to drape over her, her mother led the two of them towards the mountain. The images Mrs. Pass described were both disturbing and horrifying. "There was fire everywhere, almost surrounding us. My mother told me to go towards the mountain even though the fire was in our way. On the way, I saw a bus filled with people that still looked alive from far away. But, they were like charcoaled potatoes burned in the position they were in—a body stood still holding onto the railing and another still sat in a seat. Then, I saw a girl, about your age 16 or 17, running in the same direction as us. She was carrying her bloody stomach and intestines, keeping it from falling out." Mrs. Pass also mentioned that a teenage girl had a wooden bottle stopper protruding out of her eye. Charred bodies scattered all over roads.

Everyone was at a scramble, running in all directions. "People were running with what looked like ripped-up clothes. I saw them a little closer and noticed their bloody clothes weren't ripped," Mrs. Pass described, dabbing her nose with a tissue. "Their clothes were burned. It was their skin which peeled and hung loosely on their bodies." By this time, the heat from the atomic blast was so intense it fused arms to the chest. "I was so thirsty, but my mother told me, 'No, no. The water is bad,' so I didn't drink anything. I'm so grateful for her telling me that or I wouldn't have been alive today." Mrs. Pass remembered seeing flocks of people quench their thirst at the river. "When people jumped in the water, their bodies bloated up like balloons."

Near the area, Mrs. Pass and her mother reunited with her sister who was in the center of the Hiroshima when the bomb blew. "My sister was also trapped under a house near the center of Hiroshima. Because we were both trapped under the house, I don't think the black rain hurt us," Mrs. Pass explained. The family arrived at a friend's house outside of the city. "My mother was bleeding from the inside, so she had blue marks all over. She was already unconscious and convulsing with a high fever." Her mother's hair was pulled out and her scalp slowly decayed even though she was still alive. "There were flies everywhere. My friend kept telling me to keep the flies off my mother's head, to prevent them from laying eggs. Worms popped out of her head—I prayed for her to die." Mrs. Pass's mother's name can be found on the victims' memorial in Hiroshima's Peace Park.

A day after her mother's death and ten days after the bombing of Hiroshima, Mrs. Pass's father, who had been in the merchant marines in Nagasaki, arrived to find his wife dead and his daughters sick with radiation poisoning. "He brought back some pills from the black market. They were in packets—just powder. He gave it to me, telling me that my sister might not make it because she already had purple marks showing." Mrs. Pass described that she took the powder and licked it all off her hand. "I was okay for the while. With my father's care, my sister is still living today." Because of the intense emotional distress, nothing more could be asked or said about the horrifying experience.

In closing, Mrs. Pass had commented on how the Japanese boys and young men were brainwashed to serve for their country. "It was already bad enough to know that once the boys left, we would never see them again, but war was too much!" Mrs. Pass still suffers from the Hiroshima bombing, diagnosed with infection after infection. "My whole body was damaged. My doctor would say, "You're sick again!'" She knew she still had some cancer cells in her body somewhere. "The doctors who treated me didn't know about my experiences in Hiroshima. I never wanted to talk about it. I never wanted to see it happen again. But, when began practicing Buddhism, I started thinking about it and talking about it." Mrs. Pass's vigor had returned to her. "Now, we have bombs that can make bigger and bigger Hiroshimas. Who knows when it could happen to you? It was my mission to tell you about this, to prevent something like this to happen again. We don't want to bring out Hell on earth again."